Home » Champ League, Latest » CL Match Report: Man City 4 Viktoria Plzen 2

Joe Hart’s much-anticipated return to club duty did not pass without some pain despite Manchester City retaining slim hopes of catching Bayern Munich.

City’s place in the knockout stages of the Champions League was secure prior to kick-off, but a hard-earned victory over the Group D whipping boys Viktoria Plzen offered Manuel Pellegrini further evidence that his defensive problems extend beyond the identity of his goalkeeper.

Recalled after losing his place to Costel Pantilimon, Hart could have been forgiven for thinking the visit of the Czechs represented little more than catching and kicking practice.

It proved anything but, Hart being beaten twice after Sergio Agüero and Samir Nasri had given Pellegrini’s side the advantage.

The England goalkeeper could hardly be blamed for the lapses that allowed Tomas Horava and then Stanislav Tecl to equalise. The focus for that lies entirely with unimpressive centre defensive pairing of Joleon Lescott and Martin Demichelis.

Fortunately, while City’s defensive reshuffles cause concern, whatever attacking formation they favour excels. Alvaro Negredo tapped in City’s third on 78 minutes, four minutes after coming off the bench, and despite their defensive detours another three points were earned when Edin Dzeko headed the fourth on 89 minutes.

Mathematically, Bayern Munich can be caught. Realistically, it will not happen. City need a 3-0 win in the Allianz Arena. A glance at the standings in the other groups means the last 16 opponents will be formidable. In their third season of Champions League football, it feels like City are ending their induction period in the competition.

The Etihad has welcomed its share of glamorous European opposition — rather too hospitably thus far – but this place is still awaiting a formal christening as a place to be feared on the continent. The knockout stage will surely be the time it is awoken, the Uefa pageantry finally matched by the passion and belief in the stands.

There was no cacophony that you would expect on a European night to greet the sides, and even the more impressive City moves were greeted with lukewarm applause you would associate with an exhibition bout. The animation will come as more prized scalps start to be taken, knockout football being what truly defines this competition. City fans still give the impression they are pleased actually to be here rather than seriously entertaining notions of winning it.

After the successive hammering of Premier League opponents, the home faithful may have anticipated another goal glut against the Czechs, especially the way they started. Nasri hit the bar from 25 yards on 14 minutes and volleyed wide from closer range three minutes later.

Plzen, no points from their opening four fixtures, took an admirable, ambitious approach to ensure it was not a case of home shooting practice. Frantisek Rajtoral and Michal Duris ought to have opened the scoring, the former with a brilliant solo run, before Agüero broke through with a penalty on 33 minutes.

The Argentine is the class act who will make City — despite their recent lack of pedigree in Europe — a team for others to avoid. Rajtoral was adjudged to have handled Agüero’s cross, and the striker calmly converted. It did not end the Czech resistance, however, Horava smashing a deserved equaliser two minutes before half-time, a sweet right foot across Hart.

The flaw and strength of this City squad is their capacity to play in every gear, often in the same game – dynamic and joyous to watch at their best, but pedestrian in possession and vulnerable at the back at their worst.

Agüero’s impressive shift ended after 45 minutes, due to a prior arrangement rather than injury, his manager confirmed. Pellegrini than paid the ultimate tribute to the visitors, summoning Yaya Touré from the bench.

The African’s first contribution on 64 minutes was a part in City’s second goal for Nasri, a trademark run and pass to Jesús Navas, whose cross was volleyed in with poise by the Frenchman.

If Pellegrini thought order was restored, he was mistaken as the defensive vulnerabilities reappeared and Plzen equalised for the second time on 69 minutes. Lescott was ponderous and Tecl had time and space to pick his spot. Woeful defending.

Pellegrini turned to his bench again and Negredo needed just four minutes to repair the damage. Dzeko headed a fourth on 88 minutes from James Milner’s cross and there was still time for Touré to earn what could be construed as a ’tactical’ booking that will mean he is suspended for the Allianz Arena game and wipe the slate cleans for the knockout stage.

Hart, meanwhile, was still busy. He pushed a 25-yard strike from Daniel Kolar over the bar and proved his reflexes remain intact to deny Rajtoral another from close range.

“England’s No 1,” sang the City fans. At least the first priority — earning the right to be seen as City’s preferred keeper — has begun.

Related Posts

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.