MANCHESTER — Manuel Pellegrini faces the first major test of his Uefa Champions League credentials as Manchester City manager today when his side tackle defending champions Bayern Munich at the Etihad Stadium.
City have been eliminated from the Champions League at the group phase in the past two seasons and one of the reasons why Pellegrini was selected to succeed Roberto Mancini was his track record at continental level.
Real Madrid went out in the last 16 under Pellegrini’s stewardship in 2010, but he steered modest Villarreal to the semi-finals in 2006 and led Malaga to the quarter-finals last season.
In all-conquering German and European champions Bayern, Pellegrini could not have asked for a more demanding first European home fixture with City.
However, having worked in Spain for the duration of Bayern coach Pep Guardiola’s spectacular four-year tenure at Barcelona, the 60-year-old Chilean believes he knows how to get the better of him.
“It is very difficult at this moment to improve with Bayern because they won the last three competitions, but he (Guardiola) will find a way because he is a very good manager,” Pellegrini said.
“He knows the way we play, so he will try different things. But we know things about Guardiola, too. I lived in Spain nine years so I know exactly the way Guardiola plays.”
Both teams opened their Group D campaigns with 3-0 victories, Bayern overwhelming CSKA Moscow at the Allianz Arena and City scoring three second-half goals away to Czech champions Viktoria Pilsen.
City blew a 2-1 lead in a 3-2 loss at Aston Villa in the Premier League on Saturday, but Pellegrini will hope to recall David Silva and Sergio Aguero after both players missed the trip to Villa Park through injury.
Captain Vincent Kompany has downplayed the significance of the defeat, which left the 2012 English champions five points behind early leaders Arsenal after six games.
“We have lost games before. Every team in the world has lost games,” he said.
“It is about the reaction, what you do next game. If anything, I think we will be more motivated now to make it right.”
Bayern have experienced no such problems in the early stages of their Bundesliga title defence, having won six and drawn one of their first seven games to leave them level on points with leaders Borussia Dortmund.
However, Guardiola’s attempts to introduce a new 4-1-4-1 formation have not proved an unqualified success and his side laboured to overcome Wolfsburg in Saturday’s 1-0 victory in Munich.
The Catalan coach acknowledged the teething problems after the game, admitting that Bayern need to “find solutions to a few problems”.
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, though, says City’s possession-oriented style could unwittingly hand Bayern a chance to shine.
“We’ll meet them eye to eye,” the Germany international said.
“City are a team who like to have the ball. They want to control the game and not just hit us on the counter-attack, like all our other opponents.
“That will give us a chance to show our qualities.”
Guardiola could call upon close-season signing Mario Gotze, who was an unused substitute against Wolfsburg after overcoming an ankle problem he sustained in August’s Uefa Super Cup success against Chelsea.
The sides last met in the group phase two years ago, when Bayern won 2-0 in Munich and then lost by the same scoreline in the return game after they had already secured qualification for the round of 16.
City missed out on a last-16 place by only a point that season, but last term they finished eight points below the qualification berths after failing to win a single game against Dortmund, Real Madrid and Ajax.
City have not lost a European home game for five years, but Bayern enjoyed success on their two trips to England last season, beating Arsenal in the last 16 before overcoming Dortmund in the all-German final at Wembley.
CSKA Moscow v Viktoria Plzen, Arena Khimki
Bayer 04 Leverkusen v Real Sociedad, BayArena
Manchester City v FC Bayern Munchen, Etihad Stadium
Paris Saint Germain v Benfica, Parc des Princes
Juventus v Galatasaray, Juventus Stadium
Shakhtar Donetsk v Manchester United, Donbass Arena
RSC Anderlecht v Olympiakos, Constant Vanden Stock
Real Madrid v FC Kbenhavn, SantiagoBernabu