Manchester City must put a potentially ruinous fortnight behind them as they seek to reboot their faltering season with a big performance in their Champions League last-16, first leg trip to Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday.
With their English Premier League title hopes badly dented by successive home losses to fellow contenders Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur, City received heavy criticism for fielding a second-string team in Sunday’s embarrassing FA Cup capitulation at Chelsea.
Suddenly, the lavishly-funded team who had been campaigning for a ‘quadruple’ of titles finds their season in danger of careering off the rails with manager Manuel Pellegrini brought to task by a former England great over his moans about the club’s fixture congestion.
Alan Shearer, the Premier League’s all-time leading scorer, criticised City’s approach, telling the BBC he could not understand Pellegrini’s decision to start six teenagers in the team which was thrashed 5-1 at Chelsea.
“Barcelona played on Saturday and they face Arsenal in the Champions League on Tuesday. It’s the same amount of time (between games) as City, but they didn’t rest any players,” Shearer said.
“I don’t get the talk of resting players. City are — and want to be — a very big club on the global stage.
“They’ve got more resources than anyone. I never see Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo wanting to be left out.”
Pellegrini responded to the criticism by saying he should not have to defend his selection. City, he explained, had been struggling with injuries and he was forced to prioritise in a crucial week featuring not just the Kiev game but also Sunday’s League Cup final against Liverpool.
City had written to the Football Association to complain about the scheduling of the Chelsea game, having wanted it played on Saturday.
All this turmoil plays into the hands of outsiders Kiev, who have reached the knock-out stages for the first time since they were beaten by Bayern Munich in the 1999 semi-finals.
This will be the Ukrainian champions’ first official match after a two-and-a-half-month winter break, during which they have tried to maintain sharpness in a series of friendlies.
Kiev’s key concern is the physical shape of winger Andriy Yarmolenko, who spent two months on the sidelines with a knee injury suffered in the final game of the group stage against Maccabi.
They have also made a plea to their fans to behave during the game after the club had initially been ordered by UEFA to play the tie in an empty stadium following incidents in the match against Chelsea in October.