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Manuel Pellegrini is still struggling to bring the best out of Manchester City after Champions League draw with Roma
Manchester City's 1-1 home draw with AS Roma means they are up against it in the battle to qualify from Champions League Group E. Matthew Stanger reports from the Etihad Stadium on an underwhelming evening for the English champions...
Last Updated: 01/10/14 3:19pm
"I am absolutely sure that Manchester City will eventually win the Champions League," said Manuel Pellegrini before City's 1-1 draw with Roma. The key word being 'eventually'. On this evidence, City's date with destiny still lies far in the future.
They were second best for long spells against a Roma side inspired by Francesco Totti and remain third in Group E with just one point from their opening two games.
Pellegrini implored his players to start strong against Roma, recognising the importance of a match already billed as a play-off for second place behind Bayern Munich. "We must try our hardest to start like we did at the KC Stadium," wrote the manager in his programme notes. "It seemed there that we had taken off the handbrake and found our rhythm in the opposition penalty area."
When Maicon hauled Sergio Aguero over in the box in the fourth minute, allowing the Argentine to give the hosts the lead from the spot, it looked like they would maintain the tempo of their four-goal display against Hull. It was the Brazilian's biggest contribution for City despite spending a year at the club in 2012/13.
With Roma's record in England reading much like the eternal pity - they have now won only once in 15 visits - Aguero's strike offered hope that City's night was done. But Rudi Garcia's team are a crafty, resilient outfit, led by arch schemer Totti.
The Serie A runners-up had won six out of six in all competitions before Tuesday - thrashing CSKA Moscow 5-1 in their Champions League opener - and were soon back on level terms when Totti collected Radja Nainggolan's through-ball before taking advantage of Joe Hart's unfortunate slip. The 38-year-old's finish was sublime - a cute chip from a player who oozes subtlety.
The rest of the first half belonged to Roma. The Italians frequently left City chasing shadows with their sharp passing and quick counter-attacking through Gervinho, and almost took the lead when the former Arsenal forward slammed a shot at Hart from a narrow angle.
While Gervinho's pace was proving a problem, Jesus Navas was barely given a sniff against Ashley Cole on City's right flank. The Spaniard was replaced by James Milner at the interval after Cole once again asserted his enduring class.
Milner's arrival injected purpose into City's play, with the England winger barking encouragement at his team-mates at the start of the second half. Frank Lampard was then called upon as Pellegrini sought the decisive goal, but for all City's possession around the edge of the penalty area, penetration was lacking.
Despite David Silva's best efforts, Samir Nasri's absence was telling. Miralem Pjanic's guile could have secured victory for Roma, but Hart reacted quickly to smother the playmaker's shot after a jinking run through City's midfield.
"It's not the death of the club if we don't win the Champions League this year. But I hope that this year we improve again," said Pellegrini on Monday. His calls for calm are understandable, but this is the competition the club's hierarchy have set their hearts on winning. Nothing short of maximum points in back-to-back games against CSKA Moscow is now required if Pellegrini is to achieve the improvement he craves, and also ensure he isn't the next victim of City's lofty ambitions.
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