Three Things: Manchester City vs. CSKA Moscow
MANCHESTER, England -- Three observations from Manchester City's 5-2 win over CSKA Moscow in the Champions League.
Rocket to Russia
Mission accomplished: Manuel Pellegrini was brought in to do what Roberto Mancini could not, as City made the knockout stages of the Champions League.
"Are you Norwich in disguise?" City fans asked of CSKA, and seven goals looked likely when City went 4-1 up in 51 minutes.
Sergio Aguero began the demolition job with two quickfire, quicksilver goals to become City's all-time leading scorer in European competition, with 11, and relegate Francis Lee down the list. With nine goals in six matches, he looks in the title-winning form of 2011-12.
The Argentinian's burgeoning partnership with Alvaro Negredo spells clear and present danger to opponents with a soft underbelly. Aguero set up his Spanish colleague's first, before Samir Nasri supplied a second. "The Beast," already a cult hero, grabbed a hat trick with a well-aimed header with the last action of the game.
Zoran Tosic, so briefly of Manchester United that City fans forgot to bait him, had committed the silly foul on David Silva that allowed Aguero to set up the rout from the spot in the third minute.
Mancini loyalists -- and there remain many at Eastlands -- could suggest that the Italian would have made short work of this group, too. He was never granted the ease that playing Viktoria Plzen and CSKA could allow.
City remain shaky at the back, and especially so when Vincent Kompany is sitting in the stands. CSKA scored twice, having never been really in the contest. Their goals were reminders of a vulnerability that might cost City when away goals come into play.
It remains a mark against Pellegrini that the telling match so far in Group D was the humiliation handed out by Bayern Munich on City territory. There is a chance for revenge on Dec. 10, but with both teams already through, they likely will field reserve lineups for what will be little but a glorified friendly.
That night suggested that City are well short of the continental class to go far in the competition, but at least they are now able to take their chance in the highest-grade club football in the world -- the last 16.
Uncharted territory, then. City have the firepower to trouble anyone, but they need to discover defensive solidity when February comes.
Getting the message?
"Say no to racism and enjoy tonight's match," a hopeful announcement was made. Once translated into Russian, the small pocket of visiting fans received it ironically.
Leonid Slutsky, a name to conjure with, had hardly offered a hand of sporting friendship when refusing to apologise for suggesting that Yaya Toure had exaggerated claims of monkey chants. According to CSKA, the English are making a mountain out of a molehill, because they are still bitter that Russia, and not England, will be hosting the 2018 World Cup.
If lessons are to be learned from this affair, it is that racism is not taken remotely seriously in Russia. UEFA -- and indeed FIFA -- have plenty of educating to do to stop the problem scarring their competitions.
When CSKA's fans began the game with a throaty chant, they were instantly drowned out by City's Toure anthem. Nevertheless, they were a rowdy bunch, as suggested by Easyjet having to redirect their Sunday flight to Copenhagen to eject seven drunk and disorderly hoolies.
City's fans taunted them with a Sloop John B chant to suggest that their Russian visitors knew that they were "racist b---ards." This was not particularly helpful in keeping bad blood at bay, and a shirtless mob were soon responding with some rather forceful hand salutes.
This was not a night blessed with a white-hot European night atmosphere so CSKA's warrior words were frequently audible. Midway through the first half, Manchester police were called in to intervene, and a couple of fans were ejected. Local cops had engaged the use of Russian speakers to pick out those using inflammatory language.
As the game ebbed away as a contest, a flare kept them entertained and probably warmed up those who were still bare-chested.
Though Toure was often whistled and jeered, the monkey chants were thankfully not audibly imported to Manchester.
Huddled in an overcoat on the bench, Joe Hart looked as relaxed as he has been for most of the past 12 months. Pellegrini's ax actually may provide his frazzled mind with some rest.
In his stead was Costel Pantilimon, a towering 6-foot-8 Romanian whom City have not yet found a shirt to properly fit. CSKA's poor performance, like that of Norwich at the weekend, gave him little to do, but there were distinct signs that he does not deserve a safety kitemark himself.
When Tosic's free kick spun off the wall, Pantilimon was rather slow to claim the ball, his hand only getting the faintest of touches. It had to count as a flap, and was Hart-like in its dereliction of the basics of goalkeeping. His eyes did not appear to be on the ball, either. The self-styled Hart-Dog might have felt a flash of schadenfreude. When Pantilimon was banjaxed by Seydou Doumbia's drop of the shoulder for CSKA’s 45th-minute goal, he did himself few favours by being left on his backside. When Doumbia slotted in a penalty to reduce the deficit to 4-2, the stand-in was sent the wrong way, too.
Hart's hopes of returning to first-team action have hardly been helped by City playing two opponents who have been thoroughly outclassed. Sunderland away hardly looks a daunting prospect, even if City have lost there for the past three seasons.
England's keeper may be hoping to have his place back by the time Tottenham visit on Nov. 24, but a series of rather beatable opponents could well preclude him from that. How long Pellegrini's punishment lasts for that catalogue of errors is unknown, even if Pantilimon hardly is no long-term solution. He is not Diego Lopez to Hart's Iker Casillas.