Time for City to step up

Posted by David Mooney

GettyImagesManuel Pellegrini has a chance to prove himself early in the competition.

And so it comes to this: Manuel Pellegrini's first home game in the Champions League for Manchester City and he couldn't have asked for an easier start, as the reigning European champions visit the Etihad. Did someone say "baptism of fire"…?

The thing is, the Blues go into tomorrow's game with a record to uphold and, bizarrely, it's not one that makes pleasant reading for Bayern Munich. City fans will be able to look to it as something to suggest it's not going to be a one-sided affair and the German team might not have it all their own way.

It's a given that the Blues underperformed somewhat in last season's Champions League, and they failed to qualify from the group the year before too. Yet City still remain unbeaten at home in the competition -- despite visits from Napoli, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax, Real Madrid and (once already) Bayern Munich.

OK, so four of those five games were draws (and the sixth -- with Pellegrini's former club Villarreal -- was only a last-kick-of-the-game victory), but that's beside the point. In Europe, City aren't that easily beatable at home.

That said, fans will sigh a sigh of inevitability that all City supporters know when they look back at the last team to come to Eastlands in Europe and take all three points. It was a game the Blues should have won, but one for which they just didn't turn up. There have been 21 matches in continental competition at the City of Manchester Stadium since FC Midtjylland went back to Denmark with a 1-0 victory over five years ago.

And there are just two players from the 18-man squad who featured in that game that are still at the club (bonus points if you can work out who -- answer at the end*).

The positive for City going into what should be their toughest home fixture of the group is that they actually have nothing to lose. If the Blues have a go and win, they lead the group and would surely be a shoo-in for qualification this time around. If they draw, then very little is lost and they remain in second place. And if they lose -- well, the worst-case scenario is that one of CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen wins and ends up tied with the Blues … who'd still, at the very least, be on level points with second place, if not in it.

And on top of that, the hardest home game is done and dusted at this early stage.

City have already faced Bayern Munich in their 2013-14 fixture list, however, there will always be the argument of the validity and influence of results of preseason friendlies. Of course, back in August, the German side beat the English in the Audi Cup -- but that shouldn't have too much of an effect on this game, as Bayern played a very strong starting line-up, while City's was much rotated.

It's also worth remembering that the Audi Cup was Bayern's final warm-up match, with their season beginning ten days before the Premier League, while City still had another preseason fixture against Arsenal to fulfil and were about a fortnight behind in preparations. And with all that, it was only a narrow 2-1 win for them and in their home stadium, too.

The last time these clubs met competitively is also a game that can't really guide us too much on how this Group D fixture will pan out. Back in 2011-12, in City's debut year in the Champions League, Bayern's trip to Eastlands was on Matchday 6 of the group stage and they were already safely into the next round, while City needed to win and hope results elsewhere went their way.

For that reason, Bayern rested several players and City went on to win 2-0, rather comfortably in the end.

This time around, with the German side playing a full-strength team, it could mean a proper return to Eastlands for former City centre-back Daniel van Buyten (I still wish we'd been able to stump up the transfer fee for him back in 2004). We'll also likely see Jerome Boateng back, who never really got the chance to impress with the Blues.

Tomorrow's match should be a cracker, especially if City play with no fear. Their recent record against Bayern is fairly even and the Blues have home advantage. Of the 25 continental matches played at the Etihad (it would have been 26 had Bon Jovi not been playing when City unexpectedly qualified for the UEFA Cup in 2008 and had to relocate their opening game to Barnsley's Oakwell), City have lost only one -- and it was one they should have won.

Pellegrini has been brought in to improve the Blues' performance in Europe's top club competition. So this is money-where-your-mouth-is time. And I can't wait.

*(Just in case anybody is still scratching their heads over that mini-pop quiz -- those two players still at City from the squad that lost when hosting Midtjylland on Thursday, August 14, 2008, are Joe Hart and Micah Richards.)


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