Champions League: City must finish top

PHOTO: AFP

No more scrambling for late points to tip the scales in their favour.

No more keeping their fingers crossed for late slip-ups by their rivals.

For a change, Manchester City are through nice and early.

With two games to spare in the Champions League group stage, Manuel Pellegrini and his men are already through to the knockout phase.

On top of Group D, City earned their last-16 spot when they beat Sevilla 3-1 three weeks ago.

But the work has only just begun.

First, they must get the 4-1 thrashing by Liverpool on Saturday out of their system.

And the visit to Juventus Stadium, Turin, on Thursday morning (Singapore time) won't be a lame class excursion that nobody wants to go.

The Bianconeri are in second spot, just one point behind Vincent Kompany and gang.

They will be eyeing the same prize.

First place in the group is all that matters. Second usually means one foot through the exit door.

For the runners-up slot is a poisoned chalice.

The prize for going through the back door is a meeting with one of the group winners in the first knock-out round. It usually doesn't end well.

City went down that road. In the last two seasons, they qualified as group runners-up, and promptly got eliminated in the next hurdle by Barcelona.

Juventus have yet to exert the same domestic supremacy that saw them clinch the 2014/15 Serie A title by a whopping 17 points.

DOMESTIC LOWS

The departures of prolific striker Carlos Tevez, all-action midfielder Arturo Vidal and sublime playmaker Andrea Pirlo have hit them hard.

The traditionally solid defence has suddenly turned shaky.

The mediocre form of key players such as Paul Pogba has made matters worse.

At the moment, they are sixth in the Serie A table, nine points behind leaders Inter Milan.

But no one should underestimate their European pedigree.

Massimiliano Allegri's men won't be sitting ducks in front of close to 40,000 spectators, the majority of whom will be baying for sky-blue blood.

Last season's Champions League finalists, unbeaten in the group phase, still know a thing or two about rising to the occasion when it matters.

In September, Juventus inflicted a 2-1 defeat on City at the Etihad Stadium in their opening group game.

City won't have Kompany, Wilfried Bony and Samir Nasri while David Silva is rated doubtful.

But Pellegrini recruited well during the summer and, as a result, the team are less reliant on the two attacking stars - Silva and Sergio Aguero. New boy Raheem Sterling is adapting well, although he had a forgettable game against his former club Liverpool on Saturday.

So is Kevin de Bruyne. Together, they add a new dimension to City's attack.

Yaya Toure can still be counted to do the job in midfield, and the improvement of Fernandinho and Fernando this season has added more steel and flair to the deep midfield areas.

When things aren't going their way, they can depend on a brilliant Joe Hart in goal.

But in the Last 16, the Citizens will be up against quality opponents who know the Champions League inside out.

The hard work starts now.


This article was first published on November 24, 2015.
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