Manchester City Back to Their Best Against Kiev Ahead of Vital League Cup Final

Rob Pollard@@RobPollard_Featured ColumnistFebruary 25, 2016

Manchester City's Yaya Toure, left, celebrates with teammates Fernandinho, center, and Gael Clichy, right, after scoring his side third goal during the Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match between Dynamo Kiev and Manchester City at the Olympiyskiy stadium in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016.  (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)
Sergei Chuzavkov/Associated Press

Manchester City's form in recent weeks has, quite rightly, seen them receive criticism.

Three consecutive defeats, against title rivals Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League and Chelsea in the FA Cup, saw their season begin to unravel. Manuel Pellegrini, who will leave the club at the end of the current campaign, appeared to be struggling to get the best out of his team.

One result doesn't mask their failings, but the quality of their performance in the 3-1 win over Dynamo Kiev in the last 16 of the Champions League was thoroughly impressive and offers genuine hope of a recovery that could see them win silverware between now and May. 

The insipid, lacklustre football they had been producing was replaced by something altogether more effective and aesthetically pleasing. Some excellent one- and two-touch football saw them tear Kiev apart as they raced to a two-goal lead in the first half. It was wonderful to watch.

Kiev halved the deficit in the second half before City reasserted their dominance, and Pellegrini's men will now return to the Etihad Stadium in three weeks' time for the return leg in total control of the tie. A first-ever quarter-final place in the Champions League is in touching distance.

Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press

There were impressive displays all over the pitch. Nicolas Otamendi, who seems to benefit from Vincent Kompany's reassuring presence, gave an outstanding performance at the back, with Fernandoa player often criticisedshowing again he has a useful role to play. The Brazilian offers protection to the back four and allows Yaya Toure more freedom. City look better in Europe when he plays.

Raheem Sterling terrorised the Kiev defence with his pace and willingness to run with the ball, and David Silva was far more influential then he has been. Sergio Aguero again demonstrated his instincts in front of goal and should have scored more than the one he managed.

Good @ChampionsLeague performance by all the team tonight 👌🏾

— Yaya Touré (@YayaToure) February 24, 2016

It was telling that Pellegrini, for once, was able to call upon the spine of the team that remains so influential. Joe Hart, Kompany, Fernandinho, Toure, Silva and Aguero have rarely started together this season. When City get them out there in tandem, they're a different, more accomplished side.

The timing of this performance could hardly have been better. City jetted back immediately after the game on a chartered flight and now have four days to recover before Sunday's League Cup final against Liverpool.

It's undoubtedly their best opportunity to win a trophy this season, and they will feel far more confident having battered Kiev.

Glad with the performance and the win today. Time to rest and recover, as there is still so much to play for. See you in Wembley. #MCFC

— Vincent Kompany (@VincentKompany) February 24, 2016

It also felt like a personal victory for Pellegrini. He was widely criticised at the weekend for playing a weakened side against Chelsea, exiting the FA Cup with a whimper.

Yet his side looked fresh and back to their best in a competition that has become a priority for the club's leadership team.

“I think it's important to take the right decision and think about a lot of things, about why you take this decision,” he told reporters afterwards. 

“But in this case, having just 13 players, it was a key decision to rest the team that day. Unfortunately we could not continue in the FA Cup.”

He also felt his side were constantly improving in the Champions League. 

Sergei Chuzavkov/Associated Press

“Each season we improve a little bit more,” Pellegrini said. “The last two seasons we qualified for the last 16 and this season we made the important progress of winning the group, which was an improvement from last season.

“We now have the chance to arrive at the next stage and it's important if you can be among the best eight teams in Europe.

“I think it's an important result, but the tie is not finished. It's important to know we are 90 minutes away, but also important to understand we need a good performance at home.”

Off to the airport and home. #cityatwembley next! 🔵⚪️🏆🔵⚪️ #mcfc

— Manchester City FC (@MCFC) February 24, 2016


Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2015/16 season. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @RobPollard_.