MANCHESTER City manager Manuel Pellegrini insists his team can tonight overcome a patchy start to the season and the suspension of key players to snatch Champions League survival from the brink of extinction.
City likely need to inflict Bayern Munich’s first defeat in 19 fixtures at the Etihad Stadium to resuscitate their European hopes and avoid elimination at the group stage for the third time in four years.
They will have to topple the Bundesliga title-holders and runaway leaders without the help of powerhouse Yaya Toure and fellow midfield enforcer Fernandinho, who are both suspended.
But Pellegrini, who led City to victory at Bayern in last year’s competition and guided unheralded Malaga to within seconds of the last four in 2012-13, fancies an upset.
“I don’t know who are those people that don’t believe what we can do,” said the 61-year-old, who can expect his long-term future to be questioned if the club disappoint in Europe again.
“I am sure that this team, and me especially, believe and we have a lot of trust that we can do it. So we’ll see tomorrow after the game what happens. I hope we will continue having chances to the last game.”
“Nobody in the whole team is happy [about] the way we have played this group. We have our last chance to try to win this year, to beat Bayern Munich and continue to have chances to go to the next stage.”
Victory tonight would ensure City travel to Roma for their final group match with hope intact, though even then another win in the Italian capital would not guarantee progress to the last 16. They could survive another day even with a draw against Bayern, but that would require Roma and CSKA Moscow sharing the points in Russia. Due to that game’s earlier timing, City will know their task by kick-off.
Pellegrini played down fears that strike pair Sergio Aguero, who has scored two of City’s four Group E goals, and Stevan Jovetic could miss the crucial fixture, having sat out training yesterday.
“Aguero and Jovetic are in the squad list,” he said. “They have no problems for tomorrow night. They didn’t work normally because they have a small thing after the last game but nothing important.”
The Chilean former Real Madrid coach also dismissed suggestions of an audacious swoop for Lionel Messi, following speculation about the Barcelona star who on Saturday broke Spanish top-flight scoring records.
“The rumours are only rumours,” Pellegrini added. “What he did was exceptional and there are few players that can reach his level. The record he has got reflects how important he is for Barcelona.”
City’s former Bayern defender Martin Demichelis insists the visitors’ winning mindset means they will not let up despite having already secured top spot with two games to spare. “They’ll come here to win,” he said.
PERMUTATIONS: HOW MAN CITY CAN QUALIFY
Three points tonight will keep Manchester City’s qualification hopes alive, though the outcome of CSKA Moscow’s match against Roma will dictate what the English champions need from their final game. If Roma beat CSKA, City would need a win in Italy; if CSKA beat Roma, City would need to win in Italy and hope Bayern Munich beat CSKA; if Roma and CSKA draw, City could progress with a draw in Italy, but only if Bayern beat the Russians on matchday six.
A point against Bayern Munich this evening will confirm Manchester City’s elimination if either Roma or CSKA Moscow win their clash in Russia – the outcome of which will be know before kick-off at the Etihad Stadium. But if City take just a point off Bayern and it also finishes all square at CSKA then Manuel Pellegrini’s will travel to Rome for their final group game with a slender hope of progressing. They would need to win in Italy and hope Bayern beat the Russians.
No matter what happens elsewhere, if Manchester City lose to Bayern Munich for a second time in this year’s competition then they will be out of the Champions League. A win for Roma at CSKA Moscow would also guarantee their progress with a game to spare, as they would have a three-point lead over the Russians and a superior head-to-head record (having beaten them twice), which would come into play in the unlikely event that City won in Rome and CSKA beat Bayern.