Manchester City vs. CSKA Moscow: 6 Things We Learned from Sky Blues' 5-2 Victory
Manchester City Football Club punched their ticket to the knockout stage of the Champions League with a rampant 5-2 victory over CSKA Moscow.
Considering that CSKA Moscow were the only club with a realistic chance to unseat the Sky Blues, the victorious effort from Manuel Pellegrini's charges was all the more impressive.
City opened the scoring in the third minute after David Silva was felled in the penalty area. Sergio Aguero converted, and the book was open. More entries would follow.
Here are six things we learned from Manchester City 5-2 CSKA Moscow.
Even a Blind Squirrel Finds a Nut Once in a While
My archive includes numerous pieces where the assignment was to predict Manchester City's starting XI.
My record on those assignments was pretty shoddy, and at no time was my prediction spot on.
Here was my predicted XI against CSKA Moscow two days ago: Costel Pantilimon; Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, Martin Demichelis, Matija Nastasic; Samir Nasri, David Silva, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure; Alvaro Negredo, Aguero.
Here was the XI, per Manchester City's Twitter feed: "TEAM NEWS: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Nastasic, Clichy, Nasri, Fernandinho, Toure (C), Silva, Aguero, Negredo #cityvcska."
What a feeling!
Sergio Aguero Is a Bad, Bad Man
There are hot players, scorching hot players and Aguero.
Since the beginning of Manchester City's Champions League campaign, Aguero has scored 12 goals in 10 matches in all competitions.
And these are not garbage time goals Aguero is scoring, either. Aguero scored City's first two goals against CSKA Moscow at the Etihad. He scored their only goal at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea. He scored City's only two goals against that same CSKA Moscow side in Moscow earlier this month.
It is probably safe to say that CSKA Moscow will be very happy to have left Manchester City and Aguero behind after this most recent encounter.
Regardless, right now Aguero is as in form as in form gets.
The Keeper Controversy Is a Non-Story the Way City Are Playing Now
Manchester City manager Pellegrini has apparently gone and done it for keeps now.
Replacing Joe Hart with Pantilimon for a Premier League match at the Etihad against Norwich City, a relegation-threatened side, is one thing.
Leaving Hart on the bench for Pantilimon for a Champions League match with a ticket to the knockout stage almost certainly on the line is quite another.
Here is the thing, though: The way City are playing right now, you would have a reasonable chance of goalkeeping them to a victory.
Following the switch to Pantilimon, City's field players rang the bell seven times against the Canaries and five more times against CSKA Moscow.
As long as Pantilimon keeps winning—and City keep pouring goals in—Hart might as well get comfortable on the bench because there is no need for Pellegrini to go back to him.
The Best Defense Really Is a Good Offense
Just as Pantilimon has enjoyed Manchester City's recent offensive outbursts, so have City's back line.
City are still without captain Vincent Kompany, the centre-back who has served as the Sky Blues' defensive linchpin for the past few seasons.
City gaffer Pellegrini has thus been compelled to mix and match at the back, settling most recently on Demichelis to fill the hole Kompany left.
Again, though, as long as City are scoring five or more goals per match (as they have in their past two), it almost does not matter who patrols the space in front of City's goal.
Manchester City's Move to Manuel Pellegrini from Roberto Mancini Has Paid off
Sometimes it really is as simple as the man at the controls.
Manchester City Football Club, for all their acquisitions in the transfer markets of past seasons and for all their money, had never qualified for the knockout stage of the Champions League.
Former manager Roberto Mancini secured passage into Champions League play in two consecutive seasons but famously could never get his teams past the group stage.
Now, finally, Manchester City are on to the knockout stage with a chance (perhaps even a real chance) to win the Champions League.
Pellegrini deserves full marks for taking the Sky Blues to a place they have never been before.
Manchester City's Next Two Champions League Group Stage Matches Mean Nothing
Manchester City have finally achieved their long-sought goal of qualification to the knockout stage of Champions League play.
Per City's Twitter feed: "FULL TIME: City 5-2 CSKA. The Blues cruise into the @ChampionsLeague Round of 16 for the very first time #cityvcska #mcfc."
Remarkably, City have two more group stage matches to play.
One of the matches is against Group D bottom-feeder Viktoria Plzen. The other will require a trip to Germany to take on Bayern Munich, Group D's other qualifier.
City should approach these matches with the intensity normally saved for the League Cup.
There is no point in risking players of the caliber of Aguero, Silva, Toure or anyone else City cannot optimally compete without in these matches.
What are they paying wages to people like Jack Rodwell, James Milner and Stevan Jovetic for, anyway?