MANCHESTER, England — Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is confident his side can progress from their difficult Champions League group, which sees them drawn against Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow and Roma.
It's another tough task for City in Europe. The club have been drawn in the same group as Bayern Munich for the third time in four seasons and CSKA for the second consecutive season. Roma, the most difficult side from Pot 4, are the only new side City will face in a group eerily similar to the one they competed in 12 months ago.
When asked if he felt his side could progress, Pellegrini said:
Yes, of course. Last year we lost first position in the group to Bayern on goal difference. We hope that this year with more experience, with the trust that we have already qualified for the round of 16, I am absolutely sure we are going to continue.
I think it is a similar group to last year, a difficult group with Roma, it is a very difficult group. We must play and try to qualify. Maybe another draw is not as difficult as our group, but we must qualify the same.
Few would doubt just how difficult City’s task is, yet with their improved squad and the confidence gained from qualifying from the group stage for the first time last season, they will fancy their chances of at least matching last season's performance.
Their 3-2 win over Bayern in the Allianz, which saw them almost top the group, was hugely significant to City. It was their first win over an elite European side and demonstrated to everyone, not least themselves, what they are capable of.
The 3-1 home defeat against the German champions earlier in the group was a harsh lesson in European football, but Pellegrini will have learned his lesson that night. Bayern outnumbered and out-thought City in midfield, but with the arrival of Fernando now offering the Chilean the option of a three-man midfield with more defensive solidity, it's unlikely to happen again.
CSKA Moscow are also familiar opponents, having been in City's group 12 months ago. But two wins against the Russians last year, including a 5-2 home victory, have City confident in their chances of a repeat showing.
It's Roma who have really thrown the group open. They were in Pot 4 yet finished second in Serie A last season and possess a wealth of talent. They were by far the strongest side in the final pot, and it's their presence, along with Bayern, that marks them as one of the favourites to lift the trophy again, which makes Group E arguably the most difficult.
Meanwhile, Sergio Aguero is fit to play against Stoke at the weekend, despite a picture in the Daily Mail, via an article written by Charlie Eccleshare, showing him in pain after a training-ground challenge by Aleksandar Kolarov. Pellegrini said the Argentine "doesn’t have any problem," but whether or not he'll start against Stoke with Arsenal and Chelsea to follow remains unclear.
Aguero has two goals from two substitute appearances already this season and has looked much sharper than he did at this summer's World Cup. In that tournament, he appeared to be suffering the effects of an injury-plagued second half to last season.
Pellegrini knows how important his main marksman is to the club's chances of silverware this term, and the City boss seems keen to ease him back into first-team football.
City’s new defensive recruit, Eliaquim Mangala, remains out of contention for a starting place against Stoke, with Pellegrini keen to give him more time to prepare for his Premier League debut.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_