City facing ‘crucial’ week

A fairly routine victory hardly qualified as the highlight of Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City reign but at the start of a month the manager describes as "crucial" and ahead of a pivotal Champions League tie tomorrow, it was sorely needed.

For forward Samir Nasri, in particular, the game was especially important representing, he explained later, the first time this season that he has played at full fitness.

The result was there to see. With Sergio Aguero uncharacteristically subdued, and increasingly frustrated by the attention of Swansea defenders, it was left to Nasri and match winner Yaya Toure to pick up the creative and goalscoring slack vacated by the Argentinian.

“Of course I can improve, I can score goals, make passes,” said Nasri. “But the feelings on the field are great and I’m pleased because it is the first time I’ve played 100% fit.

“I started the season with a pain in my groin and had surgery and since I came back, since the start of the season, this is the first game I’ve been fully fit.

“It’s good for me, good for the team and I’m looking forward to continuing the run.

“We know we have seven games left in the first part of the season and we have to win them all. We know in December, during the Boxing Day period, that’s usually when you win the title. Last year we won all our games, we need to do that again because Chelsea look unbeatable at the moment. We must stay in touch with them and see what happens.”

After a run of one victory in six games, Pellegrini left his squad in no doubt that the remainder of 2014 will decide their fate, not to mention his own position as City manager. The seven league games remaining in the calendar year represent an opportunity to eat into an eight-point lead held by a Chelsea team that look, with every passing week, like champions elect.

But more pressing than that, City have a Champions League group game against Bayern Munich in Manchester tomorrow with their hopes of advancing remarkably still alive despite the English champions having just two draws to show from four games.

“It’s a must-win game,” said Nasri. “We’re really lucky in the Champions League because with two points and two games left, we can still qualify. If we win our two games, we need a big reaction to improve our performance because a team like us cannot go out in the first round of the Champions League.

“We have to win this game and hopefully it’s going to be a big game and the fans will respond and be there for us as well.”

City’s task against the Germans will not be aided by the absence, through suspension, of Toure and Fernandinho, plus the injured David Silva, although Pellegrini was certainly adopting the air of a man conscious that victory could transform his team’s season and optimistic that they can achieve it.

“We are without three very important players but that’s why we have a squad,” he said. “We know we must win against Bayern and must have the personality to go and be aggressive from the start. This is our last chance to progress in the Champions League.

“As a team, we never think chances are gone — in the Premier League and Champions League. Maybe we are in a difficult position. If we don’t play a good game against Bayern Munich, of course we cannot continue in the Champions League, but I have trust in these players and sure we are going to play a good game and win the three points.”

“Personality” — as Pellegrini described it — was certainly required of his team against Swansea to recover from a superb opening goal by Wilfried Bony that exposed the dramatic shortcomings in City’s defence and fuelled the growing debate over how and why £31.8 million defender Eliaquim Mangala cannot earn a regular starting place alongside Vincent Kompany.

A simple equaliser from Stevan Jovetic and committed effort from Toure brought City three sorely-needed points although defensive shortcomings almost allowed Bafetimbi Gomis a late goal with Jonjo Shelvey also scraping a post with a free-kick.

“There is disappointment in the dressing room,” said Swans manager Garry Monk. “We are genuinely disappointed we have come away with nothing. Let us not forget who we were playing against. To have come so close to getting something out of the game shows how far we’ve come.”

MAN CITY (4-2-3-1): Hart 6; Zabaleta 7, Kompany 6, Demichelis 7, Clichy 7; Toure 7, Fernandinho 7 (Fernando 88); Navas 7, Jovetic 7 (Lampard 70, 6), Nasri 8 (Milner 78, 6); Aguero 6.

SWANSEA (4-2-3-1): Fabianksi 7; Rangel 7, Bartley 7, Williams 7, Taylor 7; Ki 8, Carroll 5 (Shelvey 67, 6); Dyer 7 (Barrow 77, 7), Sigurdsson 6 (Gomis 79, 6), Montero 6; Bony 7.

Referee: N Swarbrick 6 e


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