Manuel Pellegrini has described as “unbelievable” the decision to play Manchester City’s crucial Champions League game against CSKA Moscow tonight on a pitch which has already been condemned as unplayable.
In terms of qualification from Group D, the likeliest scenario, one third of the way through the group games, is that City and CSKA will be fighting for second place behind Bayern Munich. Defeat this evening would make that far harder.
But the City manager’s task has been made more difficult by the fact that the game is being held not at the Luzhniki Stadium but at the smaller Arena Khimki – the 18,000 capacity home of Dynamo Moscow where the pitch is uneven with sparse grass and lots of sand.
“I think it is unbelievable that the most important competition of the world is allowed to play in this pitch,” Pellegrini said in Moscow last night. “We must pray tomorrow. If it is raining I think it will be impossible to play.” Rain is not forecast, just low temperatures. But the Chilean continued: “Really, I couldn’t believe when I saw the pitch – not only for the two teams, but the people, this is the most important competition of the world. I think it deserves a better pitch.”
Pellegrini’s frustration is compounded by the fact that CSKA’s first group game, against Viktoria Plzen, was moved from the Arena Khimki to Saint Petersburg because of the poor pitch. And he admitted surprise that this game had not also been moved.
“It is a very good ground pitch, not a good grass pitch. But of course I am surprised [the game is on] because they didn’t allow the other game, against Plzen, here. I think the people from Uefa that viewed the pitch mustn’t give the authorisation to play here.”
City midfielder Yaya Toure is familiar enough with poor pitches, and hopes that City will still be able to play their natural passing game. “I don’t have any problem with that. In Africa we have worse pitches.”
Nerves about tonight’s game might be exacerbated by the absence of Pellegrini’s captain and leading defender Vincent Kompany, the man who is so often the difference between City looking like the best team in the country and something rather less imposing.
On Saturday, City won their first away league game of the season – 3-1 at West Ham – with Matija Nastasic and Javi Garcia at centre-back, and Pellegrini will have to choose between those two and Joleon Lescott this evening.
They are facing a CSKA Moscow team who have won only one of their last seven games in all competitions – against Plzen – and have slipped to sixth in the Russian Premier League table. “I suppose the quality of the pitch is, absolutely, equal to the quality of our latest results,” joked CSKA manager Leonid Slutsky.Reuse content