UEFA Champions League Group D
Wednesday 27 November 2013, 19.45 KO
City: Hart, Richards, Kolarov (c), Demichelis, Lescott, Garcia, Fernandinho (Toure 64), Milner, Nasri (Negredo 74), Aguero (Navas 45), Dzeko
Unused: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Boyata, Huws
Goals: Aguero (pen 33), Nasri (64), Negredo (78), Dzeko (89)
Booked: Milner, Toure, Demichelis
Referee: Firat Aydinus
Man of the Match: Samir Nasri
With a much-changed line-up and a chance for a dropped goalkeeper to impress, City ran out 4-2 winners in a game that could – quite easily – have ended goalless. A damp squib… A dead rubber… Call it what you want: One side was out of the competition and the other was already through.
The game took a while to get going (some would argue it never did), but the first real chance fell to the hosts, despite the visitors having more of the ball in the opening stages. Nasri played a free kick low to the penalty spot, where Garcia connected to it and prodded it just wide.
Dzeko had a shot easily saved by Kozacik, before Nasri – who was settling into the creative role without Silva in the team very well – cracked a great shot from range against the crossbar. The Frenchman then volleyed wide from an Aguero cross, when he might have done better. Aguero had a goal disallowed as he latched on to a long punt from Hart, after he was caught tugging the defender’s shorts. City were unlucky not to have been leading.
Just before the half hour, the visitors should have gone ahead. Rajtoral wriggled through challenges from Lescott and Kolarov and – with the home side’s defence like statues – rolled a side-footed effort wide of Hart’s far post, as he faced the goalkeeper for a one-on-one. He should have netted.
The game had turned in favour of the Czech side by the stage the Blues went ahead. City broke quickly down the left and Rajtoral handled a ball into the middle, leaving the referee to point to the spot. Aguero sent the keeper the wrong way and the home side were ahead.
However, three minutes before half time, Plzen drew level. Horava rifled a shot past Hart from outside the box, as the home side’s defence were caught napping. The England keeper had no chance with the effort and, in truth, the visitors deserved to be on equal terms.
A different City side came out for the second half. This one was more involved in the game and looked much more dangerous than they had before the break: Navas clipped the post, after Dzeko had a shot deflected into the keeper’s arms, and Fernandinho had a flicked header superbly pushed over by Kozacik.
The Blues re-took the lead just after the hour mark. Yaya Toure – on for Fernandinho – did well to keep possession on the by-line and flick it back to Navas, who chipped a neat cross into the middle. There, waiting, was Nasri, who coolly slotted the ball into the net at the back post with his first touch.
The lead, though, lasted just four minutes. There had been a warning sign, as Hart excellently flicked a shot from range over the bar, but the warning wasn’t heeded. Kolar slipped the ball to Tecl inside the box and he slotted it past Hart from four yards out.
On 78 minutes, substitute Negredo scored for his sixth successive game at the Etihad, as he arrived late at the back post to slot the ball into the empty net from Navas’s low cross. It had been missed by both Dzeko and the goalkeeper at the front post and it was a simple finish.
Plzen almost hit back immediately once more. The ball was played through on the right flank and it needed quick reactions from Hart to be off his line speedily and spread himself in order to block the shot.
With only a matter of seconds left on the clock before stoppage time, the home side secured their three points. Milner crossed deep into the box where Dzeko was available to nod the ball home and give City a two-goal lead for the first time all evening.
It wasn’t a pretty game, but it got the job done – leaving City with a chance (however small) of topping the group after the final game.