Manchester City 4 Viktoria Plzen 2

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

Milner puts his body on the line.

Milner puts his body on the line.

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.

Hart is disappointed to concede.

Hart is disappointed to concede.

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.

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Viktoria Plzen 0 Manchester City 3

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.