Updated: Sunday, 18th March 2018 @ 6:00am

Tuesday Team Talk: Pellegrini key man for Manchester City as Blues look to avoid another European disaster

Tuesday Team Talk: Pellegrini key man for Manchester City as Blues look to avoid another European disaster

By Ben Butler

When the curtain opens on the 2013/2014 Champions League campaign tonight, there will be one glaring statistic that will stand against David Moyes and Manchester United.

In his 11 years at Everton, Moyes had one solitary shot at Europe’s premier competition in the 2004-2005 season.

The Toffees' European adventure did not last long either as Everton crashed out at the third qualifying round stage to Spanish La Liga side Villareal, tellingly managed at the time by new Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Contrastingly, Chilean, Pelegrini, has a wealth of experience in the competition, guiding the tiny “Yellow Submarines” to the semi-final stage in 2005-2006 where they eventually lost to Arsenal.

Pellegrini was at it again in 2008-2009 when he led Villareal to the quarter final stage – another remarkable achievement. Since leaving the Castellón outfit, Pellegrini, engineered qualification in the competition for fellow Spanish league rivals Malaga last season, whom he came within a whisker of taking to the semi-final stage but for two stoppage time goals in the second leg from Borussia Dortmund. 

Such achievements have left Pellegrini with a staggering Champions League record which has seen him lose only eight times in 44 games whilst managing Villareal, Real Madrid and Malaga – a record that makes Moyes’ European CV look worryingly average.

A best performance of last 16 with Everton in the UEFA Cup in 2007-2008, before a heart-breaking penalty shootout defeat to Italian giants Fiorentina, hardly fills United fans with confidence.

Away from the manager, United have one other major problem to contend with, a midfield lacking a powerful and strong Roy Keane type figure. The centre of the park has been a problem for United since the countless injuries of Owen Hargreaves, and the chronic bowel condition that has ruined the career of Darren Fletcher.

Of the current crop, Scholes has retired, and Ryan Giggs is soon to head the same way, whilst Anderson continues to fail to flatter despite his obvious talent, and Tom Cleverly struggles to find his best position. The departure of the highly-rated Paul Pogba to Juventus just over a year ago was also a big mistake.

In fact, the £27.5m summer deadline day signing of Marouane Fellani before the start of the current season, was United’s first midfield signing for six years.

Despite the signing of Fellani, Moyes still insists he needs two more midfield signings when the transfer window re-opens in January, after enduring a frustrating summer which saw the Scot miss out on big name players such as Ander Herrera, Daniel De Rossi and Cesc Fabregas, allow of which leaves a greater burden on Michael Carrick than ever.

His predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson experienced similar frustrations in failing to signing the likes of John Obi Mikel, Aaron Ramsey and Wesley Snejder.

The situation at City is rosier, and their fans should take heart from Pellegrini’s record in the Champions League after a number of turbulent European campaigns for the Sky Blues. Since making their first appearance in Europe’s premier competition since the 1968-1969 season, City have failed to get past the group stages for two seasons running.  

The most recent attempt last season saw City winless in a group consisting of giants such as Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. However, with Pellegrini at the helm, and a far more favourable group with the exception of last year’s treble winning champions Bayern Munich, City fans have a lot to be optimistic about.

Domestically, circumstances are not quite as positive with City making an inconsistent start to the season with a 3-2 defeat at newly-promoted Cardiff, and a fifth draw in as many seasons at Stoke on Saturday.

In particular, the game at Cardiff exposed the frailties in a City defence shorn of Martin Demichelis – out for six weeks with a knee injury, Michah Richards (hamstring), and Gael Clichy.

For United, they have also made a shaky start to the campaign with the same number of points as City, although they come into their game on the back of a comfortable 2-0 victory against Crystal Palace, all be it a win marred by yet more diving antics from Ashley Young.

Going into the games this week, both United and City will feel their groups provide a path to the knockout stages. United’s opening game will see them face stern competition in Bayer Leverkusken, who have made a good start to their German Bundesliga campaign where they currently lie third in the league.

There is also history between the two sides as far back as 2001 when Bayer beat United on the away goals rule to reach the final of the Champions League.  The Red Devils would do well to look out for the threat of forward Stefan Kiesling and other key players such as Simon Rolfes and highly-rated Polish left back Sebastien Boenisch.

Meanwhile, City face unknown but potentially dangerous opponents in Viktoria Plzen, the champions of Czech Republic last season, and currently top of the Czech league again with an unbeaten start after eight games.

Plzen have made one sole Champions League appearance in 2011-2012. Their campaign ended at the Group stages when they exited with five points from a tough group consisting of Barcelona and AC Millan.

City will want to fare better in this year’s competition than their woeful attempts in previous campaigns. City fans will expect a highly experienced Pellegrini to deliver, and rightly so with the £666million spent since the beginning of Mansour reign in 2008, a team thrown together with such mind numbing money should be doing better.

Whereas United will hope Moyes’ schoolboy record in Europe, and their serious problems in midfield don’t come back to haunt them in the same manner as previous seasons when they were destroyed, overrun and outmuscled by the likes of Real Madrid. Whatever happens, it promises to be an interesting campaign.