When British clubs get drawn against sides from Eastern Europe in the Champions League, it is automatically highlighted as a “tough test”, or something to that effect.
Often one of the main reasons for such a label is the relatively long journey, but in the modern day world of luxury air travel that should not be a valid excuse, while others cite partisan crowds as intimidating.
Despite the clichés, Manchester City’s trip to CSKA Moscow on Wednesday does represent the proverbial banana skin, particularly with their uninspiring away from this season.
Before their 3-1 win at West Ham on Saturday, only Crystal Palace and Sunderland had worse records on the road in the Premier League so far this season, and CSKA definitely possess the players to cause City problems.
The likes of Keisuke Honda, Seydou Doumbia, Ahmed Musa and Alan Dzagoev will all be capable of troubling a City defence which has not kept a clean sheet in any of their last four matches, while another familiar name will be hoping to show what he can do.
Zoran Tosic is he, although his familiarity with Premier League fans may simply be restricted to just his name.
The Serbia international is of course a former Manchester United player, but he managed only one league appearance for City’s rivals – 13 minutes against West Brom.
In the league this season he has – like 6th-placed CSKA – generally disappointed, but in the Champions League he proved a more potent weapon.
Of his average duels, the 26-year-old has won only 55% and his take on success has been very poor for a player who usually starts on the flank, as he has only succeeded in 29% of his attempts.
In the Champions League, however, he has improved. In his two appearances in the competition he has won 67% of his duels, while completing exactly half of his take-ons.
His passing accuracy is also far better. Domestically 77% of his passes have found their target, but in Europe only 13% of his attempts have not been accurate, with just under half (42.9%) of those being played forward.
In the league, although he has generally played from the flanks, he seems to be at his most dangerous when floating in behind the forwards, with 66.7% of the chances he has created coming from a central attacking area.
That is where City will have to be particularly careful. Diminutive, quick and comfortable on the ball, Tosic will look to come inside and link with Honda & Co. as they try to play through the visitors’ defence.
CSKA in general have more potential than their league form shows and City will need to be wary as they face the possibility of playing a young side determined to prove their doubters wrong against one of Europe’s mightiest.
That said, should City keep a lid on Tosic, Honda and their other creators, they will almost certainly have too much going forward for the hosts to deal with.Published 23 Oct 2013, 09:44 IST