Manchester City have had a stop-start 2015/16 season campaign. The performances at the club have been incredibly inconsistent – reflected in the current league position.
Successive home defeats to Leicester and Tottenham culminated in the lowest point in City’s season, before an inexperienced side were well-beaten by a full-strength Chelsea side in the FA Cup.
There was a great danger that Citizens’ season could be a forgettable one – with the focus being on Pep Guardiola coming in for the following campaign.
But the Champions League has offered City some escapism from domestic disappointment and the performance in an intense NSC Olimpiyskiy stadium came at a perfect time.
Manuel Pellegrini was heavily criticised for his supposed ‘lack of respect’ for the FA Cup, but the truth is that with such a deep injury list, it was simply not manageable for City to have equal priorities.
And the Champions League is the bit of silverware that the club’s hierarchy desperately want. They are yet to really grasp the Champions League and haven’t been helped by being paired with Barcelona for two consecutive years.
However, this year’s draw was more favourable for City and so it’s no surprise to see Pellegrini rank European progress ahead of the FA Cup. Still, admittedly, Dynamo Kiev were tough opposition, especially on home turf.
But the Sky Blues produced perhaps their most efficient Champions League performance – even beating well-rounded away displays against Roma and Sevilla in recent seasons.
As expected, it was a much-changed side from the team that conceded five against Chelsea on Sunday, and that showed in the energy levels from Pellegrini’s men. City are not a side known for their pressing, but the Chilean had an unusual tactical move that actually worked well for this game.
In recent times, City have struggled to find the balance of having defensive solidity and giving Sergio Aguero the service he so desperately desires.
So, Pellegrini elected to play Fernandinho in a right-sided role, similar to the duty we have seen Fabian Delph fulfil on the opposite flank in big games this term. Many City fans questioned this decision, but the side’s number 25 was incredible with his pressing – constantly disrupting Dynamo. This was transferred onto the likes of Fernando and Toure – who despite having less mobility – were able to upset the home side and take control.
Aguero was also much more involved than he has been the past few weeks and opened the scoring with a thumping finish after a cushioned header from Toure.
Silva added a second – getting in at the far post after some scintillating combination play from Aguero and Raheem Sterling; who has been one of the club’s best players in Europe this season.
The 21-year-old has not fully lived up to his steep price tag, but his best displays have come in the Champions League. None were better than his performance in Kiev, though, where he terrorised the Dynamo backline with his pace and trickery.
City should probably have been home and dry by half-time and were handed a scare in the second half as Kiev stepped up their performance. Buyalsky pulled one back with a deflected strike, and Joe Hart then had to make a strong one-handed save to deny the Ukrainian a second.
Tours then should have restored the two-goal cushion with a header when picked out wonderfully by Sterling, but the big Ivorian made no mistake moments later with a superb curling strike.
It completed a comfortable evening for City, who were well due a performance like this. Buoyed by the return of Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi was much-improved at the heart of the backline, producing a plethora of blocks and well-timed challenges. It’s remarkable how well-drilled and organised City are when their skipper is fit and firing.
There was a new-found composure on the ball in the middle of the park, with Fernando and Fernadinho aiding Yaya Toure adequately. Too often City are overrun in central areas, but they managed the game impressively in Ukraine. Aguero, Sterling and Silva meshed so well together to the point that City could easily have scored five or six.
This was the exact performance City needed to quash their rough patch. They are now in a good position to advance to the quarter-finals for the first time in history, but, more importantly, have returned to form before a cup final at Wembley. This season may not be so forgettable for the club after all.