MANUEL Pellegriniâ€™s misfiring Manchester City require a minor miracle to qualify for the knockout stage after a wretched night for the Premier League champions. The captain, Vincent Kompany, tweeted defiantly afterwards but even he will know only a dramatic reversal of fortunes can save them now.
Questions will be asked of the referee, Anastasios Sidiropulos, after he sent off both Fernandinho and Yaya TourÃ©, but City cannot hide behind them after a display that will result in serious scrutiny of their manager.
Having picked up just two points from their opening three matches, City suffered exactly the kind of calamitous start they were looking to avoid when Stevan Jovetic gave possession away facing his goal and CSKA won a free-kick from the ensuing attack as GaÃ«l Clichy was judged to have handled the ball. Bebras Natcho scored the late equaliser when the sides met in Moscow a fortnight ago and this time he turned creator as his delivery was met by Seydou Doumbia, who lost a slumbering TourÃ© to head past Joe Hart.
A stunned silence hit the Etihad Stadium though to Cityâ€™s credit they instantly hit back as Jovetic and TourÃ© each found a kind of redemption. The Montenegrin surged at the heart of the visitorsâ€™ defence and was fouled so City now had their own free-kick. It was positioned more central than CSKAâ€™s had been and TourÃ© stepped up to curl a beauty past Igor Akinfeev to make it 1-1.
The Ivorian previously scored in the competition away at Viktoria Plzen last season. His continuing under-performance in the Champions League has become an unwanted trope of the clubâ€™s fortunes in the competition and while TourÃ© may have punched the air in celebration he was soon back to disappointing, giving the ball away near the centre spot with a stray pass.
The gauge of Pellegriniâ€™s anxiousness could be found in him taking up near-permanent residence in the technical area throughout the opening half and in the unusual body language. Before TourÃ©â€™s equaliser the Chilean had rocked on his heels in anguish when JesÃºs Navas was clear but could only blast over.
Cityâ€™s defence has become a serious weakness of late and was targeted by CSKA in Moscow to good effect. Pellegrini has been doing extra work trying to shore the rearguard up but, again, CSKA were able to punch holes in it at will.
On one occasion Doumbia raced into yards of space to leave a puffing Kompany playing catch-up. The captain failed and Doumbia really should have given his side the lead again rather than miss to Hartâ€™s right, though before the half was over he would find the net again.
As was the case in Sundayâ€™s derby, City lacked poise, rhythm and panache. In Clichy they also had a left-back enduring a nightmare. His ceding of the ball to Natcho in the build-up for CSKAâ€™s second was hardly the first time the Frenchman had done so and from this juncture it was once more too simple for the Russian champions. Natcho slipped the ball to Doumbia on his left and he slid home confidently past Hart.
City had boos aimed at them from an understandably disgruntled support as they wandered off at the break. By any measure this was just not good enough and Pellegrini, who had named the same XI as against Manchester United, made his move at the start of the second period. On came Samir Nasri for Navas and Fernandinho for Jovetic, with the latter a decision designed to release TourÃ©.
First of all, though, possession of the ball was required. The way Ahmed Musa moved along the right early on to leave the hapless Clichy and MartÃn Demichelis flailing suggested this might be tricky.
The unpalatable truth facing them was that the champions of England continued to resemble a rabble who were living on the hope of reviving their fortunes and little else.
The least expected of elite footballers is to keep on trying and as the hour passed City were plugging away. A first clear chance for Pellegriniâ€™s team arrived at last when Milner skimmed the ball across the turf from the left towards Sergio AgÃ¼ero but the latter could not connect.
Pellergrini was in last-chance saloon territory and his final throw of the die was to pull off Fernando for Edin Dzeko for the closing 25 minutes.
Yet the sense this was becoming a debacle deepened when Fernandinho received his marching orders on 70 minutes to leave City with only 10 men before TourÃ©â€™s sending off for shoving Roman Eremenko to the ground. CSKAâ€™s Pontus Wernbloom had earlier been booked but when he fouled AgÃ¼ero, Sidiropoulos decided to show Sergei Ignasevich a yellow instead. It summed up Cityâ€™s night. – The Guardian