City slickers aim to build on Euro momentum
15 April 2016, 14:10
London -When Manchester City go to Stamford Bridge on Saturday on a high as newly-qualified Champions League semi-finalists, opponents Chelsea may well be thinking 'what might have been?'.
While Chelsea went out of the Champions League in the last 16 to Paris Saint-Germain to confirm a trophy-less season for the defending Premier League champions, City knocked out the French club in midweek to reach the last four for the first time in their history.
And key to City's success was Kevin De Bruyne -- a player Chelsea sold in 2014 after barely giving the Belgium international a chance in London.
De Bruyne was signed by Chelsea from Genk in January 2012 but played just three Premier League games under former manager Jose Mourinho before being sold to Wolfsburg two years later following loan spells back at Genk and with Werder Bremen.
After starring in the Bundesliga, where he was player of the year in 2014-15, City paid a club record 54 million ($76 million, 67 million euros) to sign De Bruyne last year and, with the possible exception of Sergio Aguero, he has been their outstanding player so far this season.
Despite spending more than two months out with a knee injury, the 24-year-old has scored 15 goals and created 13 others, with his stunning finish against PSG on Tuesday giving City a 1-0 second-leg win to secure their place in Friday's draw for the Champions League last four.
"He is a very good player and a very good person," said City team-mate Fernandinho.
"When he was out injured, we missed him a lot because he has a lot of good qualities.
"Every game he creates chances to score, as well as scoring goals, and he's very important for us.
"I'm very happy for him. He scored a historic goal for the club. I think he deserved it as he's a great person as well."
Had De Bruyne avoided injury, City would certainly have put up a better challenge for the Premier League title, rather than finding themselves in fourth place and 15 points behind leaders Leicester City.
Manuel Pellegrini's side therefore need to stay focused on domestic duties before they resume their pursuit of European glory at the end of April.
"We are waiting for the draw but now we have to play three games for the Premier League," Pellegrini said.
"For me, it is very important to try and qualify for the Champions League for next year."
City captain Vincent Kompany is close to a comeback from injury, but winger Raheem Sterling remains out with a groin problem.
For Chelsea, the remaining weeks of the campaign are little more than a countdown to the start of a new era under current Italy coach Antonio Conte next season.
Last weekend's defeat at Swansea City ended their 14-game unbeaten league record under Guus Hiddink and the interim manager has made it clear he intends to use the final weeks to give more opportunities to the club's youngsters.
They, like everybody else in a squad that has under-achieved so badly this season, must now attempt to catch the eye of Conte, who will take charge after Euro 2016.
And full-back Cesar Azpilicueta insists the pressure to deliver success will be even greater next season after falling short this term.
"We have Premier League games to win and our motivation is to finish as high up the table as possible because for Chelsea it's not enough to be fighting in mid-table," Azpilicueta said.
"We haven't won any trophies this season but we want to win as many games as we can and prepare to lift trophies again next season.
"I've been here four seasons. In two seasons, I won trophies and in two I didn't win. So hopefully we will get back to winning trophies again next season.
"I think we will improve and for Chelsea the only target is to win."