City look home and dry against Kiev
WITH all their vast wealth and boundless ambition, Manchester City are in the perfect position to at last start punching their weight in Europe this week by reaching the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time.
Holding a 3-1 lead from the first leg of their round-of-16 tie against Dynamo Kiev, they should make the long-awaited breakthrough into the elite last-eight comfortably enough tonight against a team who have never won a competitive game in England.
The only problem is that this is Manchester City we are talking about, a team who have dealt in maddening inconsistency for much of the season.
So the Etihad Stadium faithful, who have had to watch them bow out to Barcelona at this stage in the last two seasons, will take nothing for granted, especially after seeing their Premier League title hopes fade so tamely at the weekend.
The insipid performance in a 0-0 draw at Norwich City seemed to identify a side with only the Champions League on their mind. Manager Manuel Pellegrini was left playing up the importance of this crucial week for City.
"The first-leg lead was a very important result but nothing is finished. The worst thing for us is to think we've already done everything after a 3-1 away win," he said.
"It's important to understand that we face a big team in Dynamo Kiev."
A big team, yes, but one with a seeming inferiority complex whenever it comes to playing top-flight opposition in England.
Extraordinarily, the Ukrainian club's record in European competition on English soil reads played 13, drawn 2, lost 11.
It is a sequence that does not bode well for their manager Sergei Rebrov who, having made his own mark in the English game as a striker at Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United, now has the job of making his players believe.
He said after goals from Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure had consigned them to a comprehensive first-leg loss: "Now, we are going to analyse our mistakes and prepare better for the second leg."
They will have to. Rebrov had refused to make excuses about Kiev being rusty after a long winter break but they did look out-of-sorts and have since found a little more rhythm, winning their two subsequent Ukrainian Premier League matches to sit atop the table.
Most crucially, they need a major contribution from their key striker Andriy Yarmolenko who, following an ankle injury, has hit decent form with goals in all three of Kiev's matches in March.
Still, though, it appears the longest of shots that the Ukrainian champions can make the quarter-finals for the first time since 1999, when a certain Rebrov was leading their attack.