Manchester City’s qualification from the group stage of the Champions League was confirmed with a 5-2 win over CSKA Moscow at the Etihad. After two years of failed attempts to make it to the last 16, Manuel Pellegrini’s side have finally ended the hoodoo that had haunted and frustrated them for so long.
With three wins from four, City remain in contention to win Group D. If Bayern and City win their next matches (against CSKA away and Plzen at home, respectively), and City then better the 3-1 win the Germans managed in Manchester when the two sides meet for the final game in Munich, it is they who will progress as group winners.
It seems highly unlikely given Bayern’s quality—but not impossible. According to Pellegrini, his side are going to go for it:
"We are going to try and be first in the group. We have to decide the group in Munich against Bayern."
Which begs the question: Is it wise for City to go for top spot or should they rotate and rest players now that their place in the knockout phase is assured?
Finishing top brings the obvious advantage of avoiding Europe's elite teams in the round of 16. Real Madrid, PSG and Barcelona look likely to finish first in their respective groups, and they would all pose a huge threat to City in the next round.
It seems logical, therefore, to go full throttle in the Champions League and try and win Group D outright, even if the chances of toppling Bayern seem remote. However, with some tough domestic games over the coming weeks, they may prefer to prioritise the Premier League.
City’s fixtures between now and December 14 are as follows:
Sun. 10 Sunderland (a)
Sun. 24 Tottenham (h)
Wed. 27 Viktoria Plzen (h)
They host Tottenham just three days before the next Champions League tie with Plzen and that match must surely take priority. Tottenham are one of City's main challengers in the league and a win against them at home is crucial.
City are expected to beat Plzen, regardless of the team Pellegrini picks. They have an excellent squad, and with the likes of James Milner, Micah Richards and Jesus Navas looking for chances to impress, the manager can afford to rotate against the Czech side, especially given how poor they've looked in the competition thus far.
That would then allow City to take on Swansea four days later with their big players well-rested, giving them the best possible chance of taking maximum points. It's a difficult week but negotiable nonetheless.
The matches either side of the Bayern game, however, pose even greater dangers.
The Saturday before the match in Bavaria sees them travel to Southampton—currently level on points with City and playing some fabulous football—for what will be a very difficult match.
City lost 3-1 at St Mary's last season, severely damaging their title chances, and they will be keen to avoid a similar fate this year.
Four days after meeting Bayern, City are at home to Arsenal—the current league leaders and a side playing with freedom and confidence. They look solid defensively for the first time in years, and in Mesut Ozil, they have one of the finest players in world football.
The Gunners are currently six points ahead of City with more than a quarter of the campaign gone and Pellegrini knows that deficit has to be reduced soon. It's a game that stands out as the most important City have over the next few weeks, and making sure the likes of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure are fit for that one is surely a priority.
Given how unlikely it is City will overhaul Bayern—and with vital league games coming up—they may feel it's best to concentrate of regaining ground in the race for the title.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @TypicalCity.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!