Manchester City’s season has veered from fleeting moments of excellence to large periods of infuriating inconsistency. They’ve won the League Cup, the third major piece of silverware of Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure, yet their Premier League campaign has been nothing short of a disaster.
They have taken 51 points from 29 matches—a pitiful sum given the quality in their squad—and sit fourth in the table. Another title win to go with the League Cup he secured in February would have allowed Pellegrini to leave as a club legend, but the astonishing level underachievement in the league over the past two years threatens his reputation.
City haven’t won back-to-back league games in over five months, haven’t beaten a top-eight side all season and have drawn 0-0 against both Norwich City and Aston Villa—two of the league's most dispirited and poor sides. With the resources at their disposal, that is an appalling record.
The targets in Pellegrini’s final months in charge are to finish as high up the league table as possible and take the club as far as he can in the Champions League—meaning this week’s games against Dynamo Kiev and Manchester United are hugely important.
They are 3-1 up from the first leg in Kiev and have planted one foot in the quarter-final of the Champions League for the first time. A place in the last eight would be a huge step forward for a side who have often looked hamstrung on Europe’s stage, inhibited by their own psychological shortcomings.
Finally, this season, there have been signs of this team growing into the competition. Even the defeats to Juventus, disappointing though City were, saw them play with a freedom and comfort seldom seen in previous seasons.
Add in their superb display in Seville, the wonderful second-half fightback against Borussia Monchengladbach that saw them top their group for the first time and the win away in Kiev last month, and there is enough to suggest they are finally beginning to feel at home playing Champions League football.
That momentum needs to continue, and Tuesday’s match at home to Kiev is a great chance to do that. City showed in the first leg they are far superior to the Ukrainians, with the speed of their passing and the quality of their moves too much for the Kiev defence to handle.
A win by a big margin would send a clear message their season isn’t over and that they are determined to make an impression on the Champions League.
The last eight looks set to have a couple of winnable potential ties for City. If, for example, they do beat Kiev and find themselves in the draw for the next round, Benfica and Wolfsburg have already confirmed their status as potential opponents. City are likely to fancy their chances against either side.
It's time City began to show their best on the European stage. It's been slow but steady progress since their first qualification back in 2011. They are now presented with a real opportunity to make a significant impact.
With their Premier League campaign stuttering badly, and with Pellegrini's tenure heading for an unflattering end, the Champions League is a competition that offers them hope of a reprieve. The Premier League title—this season of all seasons—should be theirs, but their maddening inability to find anything close to title-winning form has seen them falter badly.
A good run in the Champions League would mask some of their domestic failings—and, more importantly, give Pep Guardiola a firmer base on which to build the European legacy the club's directors so badly crave.
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_.