Manchester City moved on to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League as Group D winners thanks to Raheem Sterling's spectacular birthday performance. The Blues earned this the hard way - beating a Mönchengladbach side that has not lost since September, including a 3-1 win at the weekend over Bayern Munich, arguably the best club side in the world right now.
What were today's keys to victory?
- With Fernando injured, Pellegrini was forced to start Fabian Delph a much more mobile holding midfielder. Delph wasn't great and was part of the midfield's failure when Mönchengladbach scored two first half goals, but offered a some supplementary runs early in the second half to compliment the attack.
- Raheem Sterling being deployed a a false 9 stretched the Mönchengladbach defense in the first half, clearing space for David Silva to make runs. Kevin De Bruyne was off his game today, but he too could have taken full advantage.
- The insertion of Jesus Navas added pace and a willingness to run at tiring Mönchengladbach defenders.
- Wilfried Bony's entrance to the game gave the Blues a target to play off of, allowing Sterling to move into wide positions. Bony's ability to draw defenders cleared space for Sterling.
- Manuel Pellegrini got away with the decision to sit Bacary Sagna who has not played well of late and replace him on the right side of defense with a left back - Gaël Clichy. However, Clichy was shaky for much of the game even though he contributed to the equalizing goal.
- Mönchengladbach subbed out American International Fabian Johnson before the Blues scored three second half goals who contributed to both first half goals and all three goals at the weekend against Bayern.
- A team spirit spurred on by a ruckus home crowd that has been lacking in league games of late - even domestic games at home.
Manchester City came from behind in three of four UEFA Champions League victories this season, having been outplayed for large stretches of all three matches. But in the end the team's spirit and desire to make a mark in Europe won out. For that Manager Manuel Pellegrini, under fire this week as the latest round of Pep Guardiola rumors intensify deserves full credit.