Manchester City secure Champions League spot at Stadio Olympico
Manchester City, now 12/1 to win the Champions League, certainly had lady luck on their side at the Stadio Olympico, where they bested second-place Serie A side Roma 2-0.
The scoreline flatters the Sky Blues somewhat, but the Premier League holders produced moments of quality when it counted to clinch a spot in the last 16.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men began the night knowing they could be one of three teams that could still qualify for the next round, but it was hosts Roma who initially grabbed the game by the scruff of its neck.
Ex-Arsenal attacker Gervinho broke through the visitors’ backline within seconds, and his pace and penetration on the counter was to be a key feature of the clash, and a stark warning for City in future.
The Ivory Coast forward provided a constant outlet for the Stadio Olympico side, but his inability to convert chances set the tone early on.
Boisterous Belgian Radja Nainggolan and attacking orchestrator Adem Ljajic also carved out opportunities to punish their visitors, but just could not capitalise.
Joe Hart was the standout performer for his side, with a string of early saves suggesting he was determined not to let the Romans pass.
The Sky Blues’ custodian certainly saves his best form for forays to the continent, and pulled out all the stops once again.
Rampant Roma often dominated but saw chance after chance amount to nothing, allowing City to grow in stature and confidence, with midfield pair Fernando and Fernandinho constantly disrupting the Giallorossi’s flow.
It was the Sky Blues who needed to score, however, and they struggled to bring Edin Dzeko into the game, with the absence of star men Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure taking its toll.
Samir Nasri was finally tired of all the toiling and took matters into his own hands early into the second half, unleashing an unstoppable strike from outside the area that took a fortunate rebound, but was certainly deserving of being a game-changing goal.
After that it was an uphill struggle for the hosts. The Giallorossi did come agonisingly close, though, with Hart stepping up to deny a stinging shot from Llajic before tipping Kostas Manolas’ attempt onto the post.
Roma continued to press, allowing Pablo Zabaleta to deliver a suckerpunch on the counter. The Argentine full back had struggled against excellent Gervinho, but delivered when it counted, bursting down the pitch to slot home City’s second and put the match out of Rudi Garcia’s men’s reach.
The Sky Blues should certainly celebrate after fighting back in their last two battles to craft a memorable European evening for travelling fans, but should also heed warnings from the ease with which the Giallorossi breached their backline.
When the blue half of Manchester meet the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid again, City, 11/4 to lift the Premier League, will not be allowed so many second chances.