City progress to knockout stages – but their group was the weakest

A 5-2 victory over CSKA Moscow on Tuesday night took Manuel Pellegrini’s men through to the last 32, but they had a very manageable group.

Manuel Pellegrini has succeeded where predecessor Roberto Mancini failed, with Manchester City making it through to the Champions League knockout rounds at the third time of asking.

Their third win of the campaign on Tuesday night was enough to book a place in the last 32, with many questioning just how far the Etihad Stadium side can go this term.

However, although the progression to the knockout stages is another landmark for a City side looking to be one of Europe’s best, the club’s fans shouldn’t get too carried away with the achievement.

City were unlucky two years in a row as they were handed very difficult groups, but this time round they have been blessed with the most manageable pool of all the English sides.

Yes, European champions Bayern Munich are in City’s group, but an indifferent CSKA Moscow side and Czech minnows Viktoria Plzen were never going to pose too much resistance to City taking at least second place in the pool.

Travelling to eastern Europe takes its toll, but on the pitch neither CSKA or Plzen had much chance of upsetting City or Bayern.

The Russians have a handful of good players, but have had a terrible run of form of late. The Czech side have put up resistance in the competition in past years, but do not look as united or strong this time round.

As such, despite City’s progression through to the knockout stages, their European form cannot really be assessed as yet, and it is set to get markedly more difficult from now on in.

City were humbled at home by Bayern earlier in the campaign, in a true reflection of the challenges that lie ahead in the Champions League. For City to realise their ambitions of fighting to be amongst Europe’s elite, these are the types of clashes that they will need to become accustomed to – not beating CSKA or Plzen.

The fact that Pellegrini has succeeded where Mancini failed should not be taken as significant, as the Italian had much more difficult challenges on his hands due to the quality of opponents.

With City set to be more thoroughly tested at the next stage, the Chilean manager and his side’s credentials for glory can be assessed in a more challenging environment.

image: © geetarchurchy

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