Manchester City advance to Round of 16, KO Roma from Champions League

BY foxsports • December 10, 2014

It was closely run thing, but Manchester City avoided a third group stage elimination in their fourth UEFA Champions League campaign on Wednesday. They beat AS Roma away 2-0, thanks to a wonder strike from Samir Nasri and a late goal from Pablo Zabaleta. That gave them the requisite points to break the deadlock for second place with the Romans and CSKA Moscow in Group E and join Bayern Munich in the Round of 16.

With a 2-2-2 record, their group stage performance was hardly convincing though, marked as it was by the leads they gave away. Their hide had been saved by Sergio Aguero two weeks ago, when he scored his second and third goals of the game just before the final whistle and in injury time to hand them a win over Bayern and keep them alive. And had it not been for those opportune goals by Nasri and Zabaleta over Roma, their opponents would have been among the continent’s best 16 in their stead.

"We are a string unit and we believed in it," City keeper Joe Hart told Sky Sports 5 after the match. "We had a bit of a slow start but you don't win the Premier League easily. We've got resolve, we've got character and we've got great players. Add that all together and you have a chance.

"It was a great performance and we're moving in the right direction. We've won five or six games on the spin now and we've really stepped it up."

This was City’s first win on Italian soil in European competition. But it did not come easy. In the opening minutes, a flurry of Roma chances put the Citizens on their heels. Jose Holebas was denied by City goalkeeper Joe Hart, who would have an excellent night, from close range. Then Radja Nainggolan suffered the same fate, from slightly further away.

Gervinho, who didn’t leave the best impression after his stint with Arsenal but has thrived in Italy, was a menace on the wings. He was the focal point of an effective strategy of counter-punching to City’s spells of possession with lightning-quick attacks over the top or through the lines, dispatching the Ivorian with very long passes.

As the first half progressed, City gained composure and a foothold, even if Roma kept lurking on the counter. City began creating chances. James Milner, industrious and underappreciated as ever, took a threatening shot, which was well saved by goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis. On the rebound, Gervinho tore away at the other end and prompted a fine save from Hart.

Then, Milner didn’t quite get enough of his toes on Jesus Navas’s fine through ball, allowing De Sanctis to intervene. Next, Navas and Nasri would conspire to set up the otherwise anonymous Edin Dzeko, but he put his shot over from close range. On the brink of halftime, Gervinho went down as he sliced through City’s defense. Perhaps it was a foul; perhaps not. Perhaps it was in the box; perhaps not. Either way, there was no call.

After a fairly tepid stretch, Nasri broke the deadlock with an uproarious rip from the edge of the box in the 61st minute. He’d cut inside, located a pocket of space and smashed a shot off the inside of the near post and in.

Roma remained dangerous though, through playmaker Miralem Pjanic and others. Kostas Manolas rose at a Pjanic free kick and headed a bouncing ball at Hart’s goal. But the goalie again got a touch on it and saw it bounce off his post. On the ensuing corner, Hart couldn’t get to the ball in time. Behind him, it fell for Mattia Destro. Martin Demichelis was well positioned and chested the shot off the line though, to save his club a troubling finale.

Roma pressed hard for the equalizer, opening up room in their own half. In the 85th minute, Nasri stepped just into such a vacuum and found the onrushing Zabaleta with a deft little ball. The Argentine right back keenly swept it home to put the ball and the game out of reach.

Without delving into soccer clichés, things change quickly. Manuel Pellegrini’s position as Manchester City manager had been under pressure for his side’s failure to make an impression in Europe. It looked, for a time, like they would be eliminated and that could have cost Pellegrini his job, even though he won the league in his first season at the club last year.

"We recovered our normal performance and are playing well for the ball and are similar to teams who won the title last year," said Pellegrini after the match. "We are a solid team and are recovering the ball in the correct way in the correct moments. I don't want to complain about the players that aren't in the team. You must decide to play without (Vincent) Kompany, without Yaya Toure, without (David) Silva without (Sergio) Aguero. It's difficult for a team. This team deserves a little more credit than the press always gives us."

Now, with his side resurgent in the league and into the knockout stages of the Champions League final, things hardly look so bleak. City’s season is back on track, and their struggles in this competition will soon be forgotten.'s newswire services contributed to this report.  

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