Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart believes that his team can still win this season’s Champions League despite their failure to live with the pace in the Premier League.
City carry a 3-1 lead into the home leg of their Champions League last 16 tie with Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday, putting them in a commanding position to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in the club’s history.
Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Norwich City was the latest in a succession of disappointing results that have left dents in City’s league title aspirations, ahead of this weekend’s derby with Manchester United, but Hart still feels that his side can rule the roost in Europe.
“It’s a difficult tournament, but we’ve got to believe we can win it or there’s no point in turning up,” the England goalkeeper told Monday’s pre-match press conference at the City Football Academy complex.
“We focus on one game at a time. We have to concentrate on the Champions League, then we look at another big game on Sunday (against United).
“It’s important for us — qualifying is a target we’ve had for a number of years now and we’ve got ourselves in a good position.
“The Premier League is definitely still up for grabs, but for now we’re putting that to one side and concentrating on another competition.”
Last month’s League Cup final win over Liverpool means that City manager Manuel Pellegrini is already guaranteed to sign off with at least one trophy before handing the reins to Pep Guardiola at the season’s end.
But progress in Europe would represent a historic breakthrough, as well as throwing up the intriguing possibility of being drawn to face Guardiola’s Bayern Munich — should they overcome Juventus — in the last eight.
City’s league form is unlikely to have Bayern, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain quaking in their boots, with Pellegrini’s side having failed to string back-to-back victories together since mid-October.
– Toure fit –
Yet it has been a different story in Europe, with home-and-away wins over Borussia Moenchengladbach and Europa League champions Sevilla enabling them to top Group D above last season’s beaten finalists Juventus.
City were toiling ahead of last month’s first leg in Ukraine, having lost back-to-back league games at home to Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur before a second-string team were humbled 5-1 by Chelsea in the FA Cup, but they bounced back with a slick 3-1 win at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium.
Yaya Toure’s fine 90th-minute strike, allied to goals by Sergio Aguero and David Silva, left City with one foot in the last eight and the Ivorian midfielder has been passed fit for Tuesday’s reunion after missing the trip to Norwich with a heel problem.
City picked up no new injuries at Carrow Road, which means that long-term casualties Kevin De Bruyne, Samir Nasri and Fabian Delph are their only confirmed absentees.
Ukrainian champions Dynamo have never won in England in 13 attempts — drawing two and losing 11 — but they will take encouragement from the fact that City have kept just one clean sheet in their 17 Champions League home games to date.
Furthermore, while the first leg took place during the Ukrainian Premier League’s winter break, Dynamo are now fully up and running and won 2-1 at Karpaty Lviv last Friday to supplant Shakhtar Donetsk at the league summit.
Ukraine international winger Andriy Yarmolenko proved his fitness after an ankle injury by scoring for the third game running, with a 64th-minute strike that proved to be the winner.
While the odds are stacked against Serhiy Rebrov’s team, who are missing several players through injury, defender Yevhen Khacheridi sees the trip to the Etihad Stadium as a chance to restore pride.
“We don’t want to make the same mistakes we had in Kiev,” he told Ukrainian sports newspaper Komanda.
“It will be difficult to win, but we’ll try to do that.”