UEFA Champions League Group D
Tuesday 17 September 2013, 19.45 KO
City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Nastasic, Kolarov, Navas (Milner 67), Toure (Garcia 80), Fernandinho, Nasri, Aguero, Dzeko (Negredo 83)
Unused: Pantilimon, Lescott, Rodwell, Jovetic
Goals: Dzeko (48), Toure (53), Aguero (58)
Booked: Kolarov, Fernandinho
Referee: Paolo Tagliavento
Man of the Match: Sergio Aguero
City’s third Champions League campaign started – at the second attempt, after a false start by the home side – with the away side beginning to ask the early questions. Navas tested the goalkeeper from the edge of the box with a swirling shot and a combination of Dzeko and Toure should have netted, but the Ivorian headed over.
But, soon enough, Plzen had settled and were sensing City were feeling fragile. Kovarik got in front Zabaleta, but couldn’t direct his header on goal, just after Kompany had got up well to clear a cross from the near post. A whipped free-kick needed Hart’s intervention, but he parried straight into the middle of the box and City were lucky the ricochet didn’t end up in the net.
Having been on the back foot, the away side should have been in front on 23 minutes. Kolarov found space on the left flank and found the head of Dzeko, unmarked at the back post. His header was straight at the keeper, who pounced on it at the second attempt. It was a sitter.
The visitors were beginning to settle. Aguero picked the ball up in the midfield and carried it forward to the edge of the box. There, he belted it for the bottom corner and did everything right but for a matter of inches – he struck the base of the post. Kolarov could only belt the rebound back at the goalkeeper, who recovered well.
With the half hour up, there was a scare from returning captain Kompany, as his short back-pass almost allowed the hosts in for a chance, but Hart was out to slide the ball clear. As the play moved up the pitch, Nasri took the hosts on and should have had a free kick after his mazy run through six players was brought to an unfair ending.
On the stroke of half time, the visitors had two more good chances to take the lead, both through Aguero. First, he rattled the same post as earlier from a great low cross from Kolarov. Then he managed a snapshot as the ball broke to him on the edge of the box, but his curling effort didn’t bend enough and was a confortable take for the goalkeeper.
Early in the second half, Aguero did the hard work for Dzeko to open the scoring in City’s Champions League campaign under Pellegrini. He battled hard to win the ball in the Plzen half and powered forward to set up a two-on-one. There, he squared for the Bosnian, who slid the ball past the goalkeeper with his left foot.
Two more chances fell to Dzeko immediately after, but he was unable to take either – he volleyed Aguero’s touch-back over, before blazing over a good chance inside the box from a Plzen mistake. However, the hosts almost equalised, as a pull-back was blocked by Zabaleta – unwittingly, it has to be said – and the visitors cleared.
Suddenly, City were beginning to show their dominance as, out of nothing, Toure doubled the lead with a brilliant strike. He picked up the ball outside the Plzen box and, having gotten the ball on his right foot, bent it into the top corner spectacularly. It was vintage Yaya Toure, who was beginning to show some better form.
And it got better just before the hour mark: City, now dominating, kept possession brilliantly around the box and Aguero, with his back to goal, held it up. Shifting it to one side, he turned and fired a left-footed drive into the bottom corner. The visitors were in full control.
However, from there on in, the game slowed down. City were content to shut it down and keep possession around the edge of the Plzen area, while the hosts had resorted to long shots that were rarely tasting Hart.
With only a few minutes remaining, Aguero almost made it four for the visitors as, with no support, he won the flick on and got to it first. His volley, though, stung the hands of the keeper, but didn’t find the net. Negredo then found the Argentine on the break, but he couldn’t finish, firing over. At the other end, Hart was helpless, as a near-post corner allowed Plzen to get a volley away, but it hit the post.
It was three Champions League points for Pellegrini, at his first time of asking.