CSKA Moscow vs Manchester City: Manuel Pellegrini pins hope on Sergio Aguero transferring his magic to Moscow

Aguero scored four against Tottenham on Saturday

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The Independent Football

When the final whistle went, the man who had destroyed Tottenham Hotspur tucked the ball under his arm and walked off to an ovation.

However, it is what Sergio Aguero does with another ball, the one with the Champions League stars, which really matters. Asked to evaluate a 4-1 win over Tottenham in which Aguero had scored all of Manchester City’s goals, their keeper, Joe Hart, remarked that, domestically, the champions were “starting to take off”. In the Champions League, however, they are still trundling down a familiar runway.

On Monday morning they arrive in the snow-swept Russian capital with their manager, Manuel Pellegrini, arguing that unless CSKA Moscow can be beaten tomorrow night another of Manchester City’s Champions League campaigns will be over before it has properly begun. “We have to win it if we want to have options to qualify for the next stage,” he said

And, Pellegrini argued, it was time for City’s big-name players – of which there are many apart from Aguero – to step up to the challenge of the Champions League. “I have always said that, if you want to win something, you need the best performances,” he said. “We have some very important players and they must make a difference.


“I hope that in the Champions League we can start playing like we have been doing for the last two games in the Premier League.”

In the wake of a superlative performance – two wonderful individual goals, three penalties (one missed) and an abundance of stinging shots – both Pellegrini and the Tottenham manager, Mauricio Pochettino, argued that Aguero’s place was among the world’s best strikers.

Judged on the Argentine’s displays for Atletico Madrid and Manchester City, the case is probably unanswerable. However, a glance above the line of domestic football reveals a rather different story.

Aguero did not score at all during Argentina’s run to the World Cup final. His Champions League tally of nine goals in 19 games looks a solid enough achievement and it will be quite a comfort to his team-mates lining up in what will be an eerily empty Khimki Arena, owing to a Uefa punishment for CSKA fans’ racism, that four came against CSKA.

Nevertheless, nearly half of Aguero’s Champions League goals have come from the penalty spot and against Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund he has yet to score in open play. That statistic will have to change before Aguero can be spoken of as one of the greats.

Saturday’s win over a Spurs side that performed rather better than the scoreline would suggest and a 2-0 victory at Aston Villa form the basis for Pellegrini’s optimism that this season’s defence of their Premier League title will be rather better than their last.

Nevertheless, Tottenham still managed 19 shots while Roberto Soldado missed a penalty that would have made it 2-2. Pochettino only thought the game lost when Federico Fazio marked his Premier League debut by pulling Aguero down, conceding a penalty and earning a red  card. Each might have cost his team the game; taken together the result was a foregone  conclusion.