City looking to maintain healthy habit

Posted by Simon Curtis

Manchester City and early qualification for the knockout rounds of the Champions League are unusual bedfellows: Although the two elements go together like a peanut butter and marmalade sandwich, the taste is actually turning out to be something quite delicious.

While some still harbour doubts about Manuel Pellegrini's ability to understand the rough and tumble of an away fixture in the Premier League and what it takes to prevail in one, there have been no signs of any trouble outfoxing opponents on their home soil during the truncated periods of continental jousting enjoyed up to now. City have completed impressive wins in Moscow and Plzen and will this week attempt to rack up the double over Czech champions Viktoria Plzen at The Etihad.

- Report: Nasri: City one of the best at home
- Report: Pellegrini rules out Hart January exit

While Plzen started the competition with mild ambition aimed at gaining "as many points as we can" (football shorthand for not getting whacked out of sight too often), they are already left with an unseemly scuffle to ensure Europa League qualification ahead of equally disappointing CSKA Moscow.

While engaged in these tricky manoeuvres, Plzen have also been dealt a blow beneath the belt on the home front by -- of all people -- their own manager, Pavel Vrba, who has accepted the offer of rebuilding the Czech national side from Christmas onward. The Viktoriani will have to find a new name to chant 10 minutes before the end of each match come January (as is their habit), and whoever it may be, he will find himself facing quite a task to keep pace with Sparta Prague, already five points clear at the top of the Gambrinus Liga.

City meanwhile are in sumptuous form, especially at home, and enter this match on the back of 7-0 and 6-0 wins in the league, plus a 5-2 win last time out in the Champions League. Although goalkeeper Matus Kozacik was Plzen's man of the match in the game between the sides in September -- manager Vrba said at the time that "he conceded three goals but he stopped another three or four going in" -- he can expect to have his hands warmed even more when he enters the fray in Manchester. City are on target to surpass the 100 league goals mark and are scoring freely in Europe and in the Carling One Cup, seemingly unworried by the absence of key players like Kompany and Silva.

The club are scoring for fun. The front partnership of Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo has the shine and aura of possibly the most dangerous attacking duo in European football at the moment. Both are in the form of their lives, on top of their games, and brimming with lethal, imaginative ideas about how to rip the heart out of any defenders who are less than 100 percent fit for purpose. Served by a combination of the Premier League's most accurate passers in Samir Nasri, David Silva and Jesus Navas, the front two have feasted on the plethora of chances presented to them.

Pellegrini is bound to make changes, with little to suggest his team will feature all of the big guns that blew Tottenham out of the water at the weekend. But City's substitute bench was not exactly bereft of talent Sunday, with James Milner entering the fray just in time to drop the pass of the weekend into the galloping stride of Navas for City's sixth goal, and with the likes of Javi Garcia, Edin Dzeko and Aleksander Kolarov chomping on the bit to show the manager (and perhaps other teams' managers) what they can do.

Plzen, however, have their own targets to meet. Qualification for the latter stages of the Europa League would bring fresh impetus to the second half of their season and, with both City and Bayern qualifying early, their chances of scraping together the points they need have increased. City have their own targets to aim at: Sunday's demolition of Spurs means they have scored more goals at home than any other Premier League side has managed in total. City have also scored in 56 consecutive home games since a 0-0 draw with Birmingham City in 2010. Purely goal-scoring records, perhaps, but an essential part of how to motivate a group to continue the rich vein of form.

What is expected now is a victory to underline the efficacy of the Champions League campaign so far. It is a good habit well worth maintaining as the knockout rounds come into view.

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