Making it to the round of 16 in the Champions League is a position that few Manchester City supporters could have imagined prior to 2008. We all know the history and as City supporters, we’ve all heard the banter. The expectations in 2016 are incredibly high, and while the club hasn’t always met these expectations, it’s vital to understand how far the Citizens have come in just eight years.
And, here we are.
This season has been a rocky one by all standards for the Blues of Manchester. Injuries have ravaged the first team, and inconsistencies have seen them not string together consecutive league wins since October. This past week, City exited the FA Cup after losing unceremoniously in a 1-5 scoreline against Chelsea in London. City manager Manuel Pellegrini all but conceded victory prior to the game even starting by debuting 8 teenagers on the squad list. The manager’s focus was on the week, and now the action is upon us.
City travel to Eastern Europe to visit the capital of Ukraine for a match against FC Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday evening/afternoon. The prospects of a club built for European competition and groomed for major success are in dire need to be satisfied. Having never gotten through to the round of 8, City take on a soft (on paper) opponent with hopes of Champions League glory. While Pellegrini is at the helm, it’s difficult to gauge how motivated he could be with the imminent arrival of a man who shall not be named, because honestly, we all know who is on the way.
However, the work will have to be put in if City want to succeed, and it will not be light work. In Kiev, City face a Ukrainian team consisting of veterans who are looking to make an impact and do the impossible against a large side like Manchester City. Veterans like Oleksandr Shovkovskiy, who was a participant the last and only time Kiev have made it to the round of 16, which was at the turn of the century, Raheem Sterling was six years old. Also on the Kiev squad is Andriy Yarmolenko, the dangerous #10 who has spent his entire career at the club and has been linked to numerous Premier League clubs since his impressive performance in the 2012 Euros. Yarmolenko leads the club with 8 goals in league play, and will look to cause problems on the right side of the defense.
It’s with this threat that Manuel Pellegrini must choose his team wisely. Although Dynamo Kiev haven’t played a competitive match since Maccabi Tel Aviv in December, they will almost positively face the blues without fear. In a recent Guardian piece Yarmolenko stated that the Ukrainian side "mustn’t underestimate" City, and it’s imperative that City show the same respect for their hosts.
At the weekend, Pellegrini took flak for starting a young squad and a series of fringe first-teamers. In fact, many would say that the young players looked more impressive than the veterans, and that could speak to the quality that City really have under the hood of their flashy vehicle. It wouldn’t be a surprise to say that the car doesn’t have a few dents, however -- the usual cast of injuries include Nasri, Bony, Sagna, Navas, De Bruyne and Delph. Questioning whether or not Pellegrini will go with his 4-4-2 deployment that he’s favored since the emergence of Kelechi Iheanacho is yet to be seen. But more importantly will be if Pellegrini decides to give Yaya Toure a go in favor of Fernando, who played 78 minutes on Sunday.
Sergio Aguero is coming into the match having scored 15 goals in his last 16 Champions League matches, and a rested Raheem Sterling will have to put in a noble shift on the left side of Kiev’s defense. David Silva will have an opportunity to play against Kiev’s deputy left back, Domagoj Vida, as their starter Antunes is suspended for this leg. Truthfully, this match could be the official coming out party for Kelechi Iheanacho. The young Nigerian has come close to usurping Wilfred’s Bony as City’s second striker, and has shown that his opportunities with the first team have not been wasteful ones. If Iheanacho can turn up and have a fairly decent game either aside Aguero or off the bench, it may cement his place as the club’s future #9.
It seems as if every European match is a club-defining one for Manchester City. But the Citizens have all of the physical tools to compete and progress in this tournament. City should be able to exploit the fact that Kiev have not had a competitive match in two months, and while it will be in a hostile environment, come home with an advantage when it’s time to play in a fortnight.
FC Dynamo Kiev vs Manchester City FC
Olimpiysky National Sports Complex, Kiev, Ukraine
Time: 1945GMT - 1445EST- 0945PST
Referee: Antonio Miguel Mateo Lahoz (SPA)
Manchester City Form: WWLLL
Dynamo Kiev Form: WLWWW