Pellegrini bets on Champions League after heavy defeat to Chelsea
23 February 2016, 18:38
London - Manchester City's visit to Dynamo Kiev in the last 16 of the Champions League represents a big gamble by Manuel Pellegrini.
In his quest to take City further than it has ever gone before in Europe's top club competition, Pellegrini sacrificed the club's chances of winning world football's oldest cup competition, the FA Cup.
With injuries putting pressure on a thin squad, Pellegrini fielded a team of youngsters against Chelsea on Sunday in the cup. The result? A humiliating 5-1 defeat.
"I think we have more important things in this moment" than the FA Cup, Pellegrini said after the defeat at Stamford Bridge.
"I always take the best decision for the club. It is important for us to try and recover players. We have, at this moment, seven players injured. It is impossible for us to take the risk and play in both competitions."
Now the pressure is on Pellegrini to make the gamble pay off in Wednesday's first leg in Ukraine, where City will have to battle not only the cold, but also a raucous home crowd after UEFA shortened a stadium ban imposed on Dynamo for racist attacks on black fans during October's group stage game against Chelsea.
Here are some things to know about Wednesday's game:
City has a sparkling recent record in England, having won all of the major domestic trophies in the last five years including two Premier League titles, but that hasn't been reflected on the European stage.
All of City's Abu Dhabi money hasn't been able to propel the team past the last 16 in the Champions League, but this season is City's best chance yet to cross that final frontier.
While its two previous exits at this stage were against strong Barcelona teams, this time City will be a clear favorite.
"We've got to believe that (City can win the Champions League)," goalkeeper Joe Hart told the club's website. "Else there is no point in turning up on Wednesday."
With Pellegrini leaving at the end of the season to be replaced by Pep Guardiola, a strong Champions League run would be a way for the Chilean to sign off in style.
For City, the visit to Ukraine continues a tough run of fixtures.
While seeking to win again following defeats to Leicester City, Tottenham and Chelsea, City coach Manuel Pellegrini will also have an eye on two tough games against Liverpool.
First up is the English League Cup final on Sunday, before a March 2 trip to Anfield in the Premier League.
This all comes with City's squad under strain from injuries. Jesus Navas, Kevin de Bruyne and Samir Nasri are all out, while Wilfried Bony and Eliaquim Mangala are both doubtful.
The last time Dynamo hosted an English team, the events in the stands proved more memorable than the game itself.
As a 0-0 draw with Chelsea played out on the field, a gang of Dynamo hooligans stalked the stands for much of the first half, chasing and beating black supporters, as well as white fans who came to their aid.
UEFA punished Dynamo with two home games behind closed doors, the second of which was due to be against City, but that was lifted Feb. 2 by UEFA after Dynamo argued it had made progress in fighting fan racism.
Ahead of the City game, Dynamo players have produced an anti-racism video in several languages, and the club has called on fans to be on their best behavior.
"There is probably no need to remind you of the titanic efforts that were made by every part of our club so that this game could be held in a proper football atmosphere, with spectators," Dynamo said in a statement.
Pellegrini isn't the only coach with tough decisions to make about injuries.
Even though Dynamo has not played a competitive game since beating Maccabi Tel Aviv on the last day of the group stage in December, coach Serhiy Rebrov still comes into the game with a major injury worry. Star winger Andriy Yarmolenko hurt his leg in a challenge during the Maccabi game and has been trying to recover fitness throughout the lengthy Ukrainian winter break.
Now back in full training ahead of City's visit, he told Ukrainian media this week that he is still feeling "a little discomfort."
Dynamo, which is in the last 16 for the first time in 16 years, is also without attacking midfielder Younes Belhanda, who departed last month on loan to Schalke.