Man City target last 16 in CSKA reunion
Buoyed by their demolition of Norwich City, Manchester City will look to secure qualification for the Champions League knockout phase on Tuesday when they resume hostilities with CSKA Moscow.
Saturday's 7-0 victory over Norwich underlined City's Premier League title credentials and they will enter Tuesday's game at the Etihad Stadium with confidence high.
A win would give City a six-point lead over the Russians in Group D with only two matches remaining.
With head-to-head results the determining criteria in separating teams that are level on points and with bottom club Viktoria Pilsen likely to drop points at home to group leaders Bayern Munich, victory would probably send City into the last 16.
After consecutive group-phase exits in the last two seasons, it would represent a breakthrough achievement for new manager Manuel Pellegrini, who nonetheless benefited from a kinder draw than his predecessor, Roberto Mancini, ever enjoyed.
Ahead of the potentially decisive game, right-back Pablo Zabaleta says City can draw encouragement from their strong home record this season.
Although they fell 3-1 to Bayern in their last Champions League home game, they have won all five of their league games at the Etihad to date, scoring 20 goals and conceding only two.
"We feel very comfortable at home and our performances have been great since the start of the season," said the Argentine.
"Playing away we have dropped too many points, but when we play at home we are a very strong side."
The racist abuse to which City's Ivorian midfielder Yaya Toure was subjected by CSKA fans in the reverse fixture on October 23 gives Tuesday's game an unsavoury subtext.
European governing body UEFA punished the Russian champions by imposing a partial stadium closure for their next home game in the competition, against Bayern on November 27.
CSKA refused to acknowledge the need for action, however, with general director Roman Babayev claiming that the accusations of racism were "not proven" and accusing the British press of mounting a "smear" campaign.
Of perhaps greater concern to Pellegrini is the form of goalkeeper Joe Hart, who was dropped in favour of Costel Pantilimon for the game against Norwich after a series of recent mistakes.
Pellegrini must decide whether to keep faith with the Romanian, but he has revealed that Spanish striker Alvaro Negredo should be fit to play despite being taken off at half-time against Norwich.
"Negredo was not injured, but he played 115 minutes last Wednesday (against Newcastle United in the League Cup) and we have to play again on Tuesday in a very important game for the club so I thought it was better for him," explained the Chilean.
CSKA will be without injured playmaker Alan Dzagoev, but defender Vasili Berezutski is expected to return following a spell on the sidelines.
CSKA coach Leonid Slutsky saw his side beat Volga Nizhny Novgorod 2-1 in the Russian Premier League on Saturday and has warned his players that their future in the Champions League will be on the line in Manchester.
"The match in Manchester will be the decisive encounter for us," he said.
"If we lose the match, we lose the chance to get a place in the knockout rounds."
CSKA trail league leaders Zenit Saint Petersburg by nine points after 15 matches, but Ivorian forward Seydou Doumbia says they have turned things around following a disastrous recent run of five games without victory.
"As long as we have the slightest chance, we will battle for the win," he said.
"Every match that we win at home or away is important for us. Recently we managed to battle back from a five-match winless streak to win two games in a row. It will be great to extend the winning streak in Manchester."
Related Manchester City News