Manchester City are through to their first quarter-final, but can they go further still? The answer may lie with three key players, reckons UEFA.com's Simon Hart.
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Manchester City made history last night by reaching their first UEFA Champions League quarter-finals. Indeed, in completing a 3-1 aggregate victory over Dynamo Kyiv, they also achieved another, simpler first – a first-ever two-legged success in Europe's top club competition. The question now is can they go even further?
Their long-serving defender Pablo Zabaleta had his tongue in his cheek when asked after the goalless draw with Dynamo where City had gone right this season. "[In] the last two years we played Barcelona at this stage," he said, yet if this is undeniably true, Manuel Pellegrini's men had earned the right to avoid a top seed this season by winning their group for the first time.
Given their mixed form this season, Zabeleta was correct to be cautious when asked whether City were now genuine contenders for the club game's biggest prize: "It is too soon to say something like that – we have to recognise that this competition is probably one of the hardest in football and you have to play against the best teams."
Whoever they are pitted against in the draw on Friday, full-back Gaël Clichy believes City can step up a level – "surely we can do more and we have to do more" – yet his comments hinted at the need to find the right mentality. This is a City team who have been accused at times this season of a lack of urgency and a degree of complacency. Their quality is not in question, though, and Clichy said: "We have the players to score so we have to make sure we start the game focused and know that what we are doing is never enough – even if the performance is great we always have to ask more of ourselves."
City, according to Clichy, delivered two stand-out displays en route to the quarter-finals – the 3-1 successes at Sevilla in the group stage and at Dynamo Kyiv in the last 16. Against the strongest sides they have faced this season, they have struggled, however: they lost home and away to Juventus in Group D and in the Premier League have not beaten a single other side in the division's top six.
The other factor to consider is the presence or otherwise of three key individuals. Football may be a team game but City's hopes could hinge on these three men:
The Argentinian did not score last night but he has 16 goals in his last 18 starts in the UEFA Champions League. He is one of the leading attackers in the competition, as City old boy Mike Summerbee underlined in last night's match programme where he said Agüero was on the same level as Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez at Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid. "If you put Agüero into those sides then I am sure he would score just as many goals as those players," he said.
Kevin De Bruyne
De Bruyne earned City their first European home win of this campaign with his 91st-minute winner against Sevilla. The talented Belgian has been absent with a knee injury since late January but is expected to make his comeback in a friendly game during the upcoming international break. City's prospects of further progress would be greater if he were fit and available to play some part by the time the quarter-finals come around.
The prognosis for Kompany is less rosy after City's captain limped out of last night's game with his latest calf injury – the 14th in his eight years at the club. Pellegrini's side have kept nine of their 13 Premier League clean sheets this season when their captain, 30 next month, has been fit to play. In all competitions, they have conceded a goal every 156 minutes with him on the pitch – and every 70 minutes without him. The statistics confirm the simple fact that with him they look a more solid team and his month-long absence is a clear blow to their prospects come the quarter-finals.