As neighbourhood rivals Manchester United stuttered to a disappointing 0-0 draw against Real Sociedad on Tuesday night, Manchester City reached the knockout stages of the Champions League with a commanding 5-2 victory over CSKA Moscow.
Much of the build up to this match had surrounded City coach Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to drop error-prone goalkeeper Joe Hart in favour of Romanian Costel Pantilimon.
However, the headlines were made at the other end of the pitch as the combined striking prowess of Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Aguero netted five goals between them to secure a crucial three points that take the Sky Blues to the knockout stages for the first time in their history.
After the intensely fought reverse of this fixture ended 2-1 in City’s favour a fortnight ago, many had predicted another tight encounter.
City found themselves ahead within three minutes after David Silva was needlessly brought down inside the Moscow penalty area.
Aguero stepped up and fired his side ahead in confident fashion.
Within 20 minutes, City had doubled their lead and it was Aguero again who found himself on the scoresheet, turning effortlessly away from Berezoutski and finding the corner with an exquisite finish.
City were now in complete control, moving the ball around with confidence and flair previously unseen by their fans in Europe. Ten minutes later they were three goals ahead. This time Aguero turned creator, slotting an inviting cross into the box that Negredo could hardly fail to convert.
As the game approached half time, CSKA were handed a lifeline when complacency at the back allowed striker Seydou Doumbia to round Pantilimon and score.
Unfortunately for Moscow, it was a lifeline that was short lived, and within six minutes of the restart City restored their three goal advantage, Negredo scoring his second of the match after fantastic build up play from the outstanding Samir Nasri.
City appeared to be cruising to a convincing victory when Pablo Zabaleta needlessly brought down Doumbia just inside the box with 20 minutes remaining.
Doumbia sent Pantilimon the wrong way to reduce the deficit to two goals once more, but the contest was ended in stoppage time when Negredo completed his hat-trick with a header from a James Milner cross.
This latest result shows a significant improvement in City’s European form compared to last season, and they are now certain to advance to the last 16 of the competition.
In midfield Yaya Toure was immense throughout, whilst a five goal haul from Aguero and Negredo will also bring great pleasure to Pellegrini, justifying his decision to leave Eden Dzeko on the bench in recent weeks.
Negredo looks a talented player, and his acquisition could prove to be invaluable as City pursue both domestic and European glory this season.