Ever since Malcolm Allison declared that his club would now hurl themselves on “the cowards of Europe” and promptly got himself knocked out in the first round by Fenerbahce, the European Cup has cast its shadow over Manchester City.
Here, however, they stepped out into a kind of sunlight, qualifying for the knockout phase of the Champions League for the first time with Sergio Aguero overtaking Francis Lee from Allison’s 1968 title-winning side as Manchester City’s leading scorer in European football.
This is precisely what Manuel Pellegrini had been hired for. Especially on their own ground, Manchester City can test Jürgen Klopp’s theory that once into the open waters of the knockout rounds they can beat any team in Europe. In another corner of the continent, Roberto Mancini’s latest club, Galatasaray, lost to Copenhagen. For him, the Champions League remains a prison.
It was a night when City delivered a ruthless response to the abuse they had endured in Moscow. Even with the game palpably won, James Milner still drove forward to deliver the cross that gave Alvaro Negredo his hat-trick. This was not just a win, it was a warning.
It is hard to know what the 800 or so Russian fans who came to Manchester would have made of Bonfire Night; theirs is not a country that celebrates failed revolutions.
Seven of them on an Easyjet flight from Moscow were offloaded at Copenhagen after too much drink had been taken. The remainder were treated to a couple of fire-jugglers outside the Etihad’s main reception, the crack of fireworks in the deep distance and footwork by David Silva that was far too hot to handle.
In the three games since the defeat at Stamford Bridge that did for Joe Hart, Silva has dazzled. Part of the reason that Manchester City relinquished their title so tamely last season was that the boy from Gran Canaria seemed to lose his appetite for the game. Lately, he has been ravenous.
When Zoran Tosic brought him down, the game was two minutes and six seconds old and just two CSKA Moscow players had actually touched the ball. Dancing on the edge of the area, he cut inside and Tosic clattered into him from behind just about where the six-yard box meets the byline. It would have been hard to find a more blatant penalty. Aguero converted it without fuss.
Samir Nasri was another who failed Manchester City when it mattered. Mancini had long mistrusted his commitment but there was no questioning his ability and here he proved it, first by holding off Kirill Nababkin and Tosic and setting Silva loose, and then finding Aguero lurking in space.
Silva’s shot struck the side-netting, almost grazing the outside of the post as it did so. Aguero’s was even better. With a single back-flick he took the ball past Aleksei Berezutski and drove it into the corner of the net in front of the CSKA Moscow supporters.
It would have been fitting, given the abuse Yaya Touré had received in the Khimki Arena, if he had done the same, although he had to be content with sending a free-kick in among the Russian fans, who sang throughout the débâcle and showed their defiance by setting off a couple of flares.
The third goal was not long delayed as the chants of “Are you Norwich in disguise?” replaced those of “You racist bastards, we know what you are” and began drifting through the November night.
CSKA’s defending was sometimes on a par with that displayed by Chris Hughton’s disintegrating collection of footballers – “team” would be too strong a word – on Saturday. Now Aguero took out three defenders with a diagonal pass and Alvaro Negredo, who began the move, finished it from close range.
If that was simple, the fourth and Negredo’s second was a training-ground exercise: a chip from Touré, flicked on by Nasri without a defender in sight and put away by the “Beast of Vallecas”, a reference to the dirt-poor suburb of Madrid where he grew up. The Etihad began a chorus of “Feed the Beast and he will score”, although tonight Negredo was getting his food served up on a plate.
For Costel Pantilimon, playing his first European game since turning out for Poli Timisoara against Manchester City, it looked as simple an exercise as it had been against Norwich. It should be pointed out that, in Moscow, Hart had delivered one of his better performances of a difficult season, including a point-blank save from Keisuke Honda that ensured City would leave Russia with a win.
Pantilimon did not exactly convince with his attempt to hold a high, swirling ball and just before half-time he was beaten. However, the fault lay with Martin Demichelis, who attempted to play Seydou Doumbia offside as he ran to meet Pontus Wernbloom’s through ball and failed spectacularly.
Manchester City’s defending has sometimes not impressed under Pellegrini and now it stuttered again as Gaël Clichy hauled down Doumbia. The Ivorian took the penalty himself and ran up to the ball as if he were about to take part in the long jump. It finished, like so many balls tonight, in the back of the net.
* A Mario Mandzukic header midway through the second half was enough to earn holders Bayern Munich the points at Viktoria Plzen, a 1-0 victory keeping Pep Guardiola’s side top of the group and taking them through with City to the last 16.
Results so far
Bayern Munich 3-0 CSKA Moscow, Viktoria Plzen 0-3 Manchester City; CSKA Moscow 3-2 Viktoria Plzen, Manchester City 1-3 Bayern Munich; CSKA Moscow 1-2 Manchester City, Bayern Munich 5-0 Viktoria Plzen; Manchester City 5-2 CSKA Moscow, Viktoria Plzen 0-1 Bayern Munich.
27 Nov CSKA Moscow v Bayern Munich, Manchester City v Viktoria Plzen. 10 Dec Bayern Munich v Manchester City, Viktoria Plzen v CSKA Moscow.
Man of the match Nasri.
Match rating 8/10.
Referee C V Carballo (Sp).