Manchester City claimed a vital three points in their quest to make the Champions League knockout phase for the first time with a hard-fought 2-1 win in Moscow against CSKA. On an awful pitch at the Khimki Arena, the visitors had fallen behind when their defense went missing to allow former Manchester United winger Zoran Tosic to score just past the half-hour mark. But City responded instantly and resoundingly, getting in front within 10 minutes through a Sergio Aguero double.
Substitute Edin Dzeko twice failed to make the result secure with poor misses in the second half. Instead, the three points remained in doubt until the final whistle, with CSKA looking threatening going forward and coming so close to equalizing with almost the last kick of the game. Joe Hart proved City’s hero, though, with a brilliant save with his legs from Keisuke Honda’s volley.
Sadly, the match was also marred by racist abuse suffered by City's Yaya Toure and the Ivorian later called for UEFA to take action over the monkey chants aimed in his direction.
In terms of matters on the pitch, it was not the most convincing of performances from City. However, Manuel Pellegrini is unlikely to be overly concerned, in the knowledge that it was vital for City to take something from the game after their resounding beating at the hands of Bayern Munich last time out. A victory away from home against the side most likely to challenge them for qualification alongside Bayern puts them in a strong position for a place in the last 16.
City had their chances early on a seasonably cold night in the Russian capital: Aguero put, an admittedly difficult, volley wide when he will feel he should have at least hit the target, while Negredo did fire between the posts but achieved little else with a first-time effort from Aleksandar Kolarov’s pull back.
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However, after initially starting cautiously, CSKA grew more adventurous and City’s defense looked less than equipped to deal with the threat. With influential captain Vincent Kompany still out, Javi Garcia was again asked to drop back into the center of the back line. And the Spaniard, not for the first time this season, looked ill at ease.
It was Garcia’s error that led to the home side taking the lead 32 minutes in. From a simple long ball forward by goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, Keisuke Honda, more known for his ability with his feet, was able to win a header in front of Garcia, leaving City’s defense in disarray as Tosic ran through and skillfully lifted the ball over the advancing Joe Hart and into the net.
To their credit, City did anything but fall flat reflecting on their defensive failings. Instead, within two minutes they were level. David Silva found the kind of pocket of space he relishes and moved forward down the left of the area before putting in a fine center that Sergei Ignashevitch poorly failed to clear, allowing Aguero to pounce and put low past Akinfeev.
Reinforcing that they were far more comfortable going forward than at the other end, City went in front three minutes before the interval. Alvaro Negredo, in fine form in front of goal in recent weeks, this time played creator with a delightful chip across the six-yard box with the outside of his left foot that allowed Aguero to make a run in behind and get to ahead of the out-rushing Akinfeev to put a brave header into the net.
Still, there were opportunities for the home side to get back level after the break. Striker Seydou Doumbia was particularly threatening, straining for a far-post header that Hart was able to hold while also being denied a slightly ambitious penalty appeal as he went down under minimal contact from Garcia. Substitute Ahmed Musa did put the ball in the net with a spectacular strike, but the whistle, to the relief of City, had already gone for a slightly high boot by Pontus Wernbloom.
The best chances, though, had fallen the way of City, and Dzeko in particular. The Bosnian did little to aid his claims for a starting berth, twice stabbing shots wide from close range. They so almost proved costly, too. But Hart, criticized roundly after City’s last Champions League encounter, redeemed himself with a spectacular save from Honda to get City’s errant defense off the hook and his team’s European campaign back on track.