By Harry Harris
MANCHESTER City secured a place in the Champions League last 16 with two games to spare, United scored at last, Wayne Rooney scored at long last, and English football can once again hold its head up – come on Arsenal and Chelsea.
As for City, well, here’s a turn up for the book, the club that simply couldn’t hack it in the big time are suddenly top dogs. Top of the group and with every chance of finishing at the summit and avoiding the big guns when we reach the knock-out stages.
And the team that always seemed to stumble and fall flat on their faces in the Champions league won in style at a place that would seem to have been a tough nut to crack, Seville.
But City tore apart Group D rivals Sevilla in a blistering attacking display, fully justifying manager Manuel Pelligrini’s team selection and tactics.
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Raheem Sterling put City ahead with a composed finish from a tight angle, after some exceptional movement.
Fernandinho burst through from midfield to pop up inside the box for a close range header that doubled City’s lead just 170 seconds later.
Sevilla hit back through Benoit Tremoulinas’ free header, but Wilfried Bony swept in a ground shot with precision just inside the upright for a 3-1 half-time lead.
City cruised through the second half with an authoritative display that always seemed to elude them, and even a sequence of losing ties with late goals was something they managed to avoid.
Victory for the Premier League leaders, coupled with Juventus’s 1-1 draw at Borussia Monchengladbach in the group’s other game, means they have reached the last 16 in record time which is something to celebrate and totally out of character with previous slap stick Champions League campaigns.
Over the past four seasons, City twice failed to make the group stage under Roberto Mancini and scraped into the last 16 in each of Pellegrini’s two campaigns. Different story now.
Pellegrini told BT Sport immediately after the tie in Seville: “It is very important to qualify for the next stage, now we will try to qualify in first position. I’m happy with the way we played, we scored three goals, missed three of four clear chances to score, and we defended well.
“I was not happy with the way we were playing in the previous games, so I’m happy with our form tonight.
“The three midfielders – Yaya Toure, Fernandinho and Fernando – played well, pressed higher and our attack was really prepared. We played with one touch and moved into space, that was the reason we created so many chances.”
Captain Vincent Kompany commented: “The first feeling is ‘finally’. It’s a difficult group and to qualify with two games spare is an incredible achievement. We now have to try and finish first in group, so will try to do that.”
City have lit up the Champions League at long last and without their best two players David Silva and world class finisher Sergio Aguero who tweeted his congratulations to this teammates on what was a ‘brilliant display’.