Manuel Pellegrini has again defended his decision to pick a severely weakened lineup in the FA Cup against Chelsea on Sunday and insisted it won't have any bearing on Manchester City’s attempt to secure a first Champions League quarterfinal berth. With a team featuring five debutantes and six teenagers, Manchester City were brushed aside, 5-1, in the FA Cup fifth round at Stamford Bridge. But Pellegrini has claimed such rotation was necessary to aid City’s chances when visiting Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday in the first leg of their Champions League Round-of-16 matchup.
"I don't think one game is linked with the other one,” the Chilean said at his pre-match press conference in the Ukrainian capital. “Unfortunately for us, we have to make a difficult decision against Chelsea but it was the only clear decision we could do in this moment.
“If we had a completely fit squad, probably a lot more experienced players could have played that game but that was not the case. We had just 13 players so I think that it was our intention to continue in all of the competitions. But we couldn't do that, we had to take a chance but this is absolutely different.”
Having never made it out of the group stage prior to his arrival, this will be Manchester City’s third successive experience of the Champions League knockout phase under Pellegrini. But after defeats at the Round of 16 in the previous two years to Barcelona, Pellegrini is now determined to go at least one step further before he is replaced by Pep Guardiola in the summer.
“We are now thinking in trying to improve as we did last two years arriving for the first time in the round of 16 now we won the group and we try to continue knowing that we have a difficult game tomorrow.”
Manchester City, in theory, secured themselves a more favorable draw this time around by topping their group ahead of Juventus. They now take on a Dynamo Kiev side who, due to the long winter break in Ukraine, have not played a competitive match since they booked their place in the Champions League last 16 with a 1-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv on Dec. 9.
For the Ukrainian champions, Wednesday’s encounter at the Olimpiyskiy Stadium will be their first Champions League knockout match since their run to the semifinals in 1999. The team was spearheaded by the striker partnership Andriy Shevchenko and the man who is now manager, Sergei Rebrov.
The 41-year-old, who also represented English Premier League sides Tottenham and West Ham in his career, insists he is reading little into the fact that Manchester City have now lost their last three matches.
“City have scored more than any other team in the Premier League [alongside Leicester] and their recent defeats mean nothing,” Rebrov said, according to Uefa.com. “Their squad, even without all the injury absentees, includes many top players. In fact, all their players are world class. Their domestic form doesn't matter as the Champions League is a completely different competition, and we saw their priorities at the weekend.”
Rebrov has an injury doubt over his star man, Ukraine international winger Andriy Yarmolenko. City, meanwhile, will again be missing Kevin de Bruyne, Fabian Delph, Wilfried Bony and Jesus Navas, but will have Eliaquim Mangala available.
Prediction: The matchup presents a great chance for Manchester City to make their first Champions League quarterfinal, but they may not have things all their own way in Kiev. City remain inconsistent on the road, both domestically and in Europe, while Dynamo were unbeaten at home in the group stage. A score draw to keep the tie very much alive heading back to Manchester in three weeks’ time could be in the cards.
Predicted score: Dynamo Kiev 1-1 Manchester City
Kickoff time: 2:45 a.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 1, ESPN Deportes