Effectively accused by their former manager, Mark Hughes, of underestimating his Stoke City side in Saturday’s goalless draw, Manchester City hope to reap the benefit of a rotation policy in their opening Champions League tie away to Viktoria Plzen tomorrow night and then in the Manchester derby on Sunday.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini claimed after a feeble performance at the Britannia Stadium that “the Champions League is very important but not more than the Premier League”. His selection policy, leaving Edin Dzeko and Fernandinho on the bench and only introducing Sergio Aguero and Jesus Navas as substitutes, suggested otherwise.
“I don’t think that worked for them, if I am perfectly honest,” Hughes (below) said with satisfaction. “I was quite encouraged by the team they picked against us and I think that was borne out in the performance of the two teams.
“That’s a balancing act Manuel Pellegrini will have to cope with. You need to know what the Premier League is like. It is unforgiving and no game is easy. You can’t really place one game above another because you can come unstuck.”
Stoke, responding well to Hughes’s introduction of a more measured style, were always likely to be as threatening as the Czech champions and they made the best four or five chances of the match. Pellegrini knows, however, that two failures in Europe were what cost his predecessor Roberto Mancini his job and it is important City start their campaign with a win tomorrow against the weakest team in the group, which also includes Bayern Munich and CSKA Moscow.
City’s James Milner, one of those brought in on Saturday who did not take his chance to impress, said: “Any team that has qualified for the group stages of the Champions League are obviously a strong team and deserve to be there. The groups in previous years have taught us not to take anything lightly.”
Champions League: eye on the opposition
Viktoria Plzen prepared for Tuesday’s opening Group D visit of Manchester City by maintaining their unbeaten start to the season on Friday.
Daniel Kolar put the Czech league leaders ahead early at third-placed Slovan Liberec but former West Ham def-ender Radoslav Kovac made it 1-1 with 12 minutes left.