SEVILLE, Spain: Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini urged his players to maintain the standards they set in sweeping aside Sevilla 3-1 to seal their place in the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).
Despite their vast resources, City have struggled to make an impact on the Champions League, losing to Barcelona in the last 16 in the two previous seasons they have made it to the knockout stage.
However, they produced arguably their best European display under Pellegrini’s tutelage as early goals from Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho fired the visitors into a 2-0 lead after just 11 minutes.
Benoit Tremoulinas pulled a goal back for Sevilla, but Wilfried Bony restored City’s two-goal lead before the break and Pellegrini’s men passed up a series of chances to add to their lead in the second half against a Sevilla side that had won their previous 10 European games at home.
“I am very happy because I think we played a complete game. We were good physically, technically and tactically,” said City manager Manuel Pellegrini.
“We defended very well, we scored three goals and missed four or five clear chances to score more.
“The most important thing is to keep playing the way we did today.
“I hadn’t been happy with the way we had been playing, even when we were winning. Today it was different and that is how we must continue.”
Victory takes City a point ahead of Juventus at the top of Group D with the two set to meet in Turin in three weeks’ time.
And Pellegrini is eager to top the group and avoid another clash with one of Europe’s elite in the last 16 this season.
“It is important to be qualified two games before, but we want to qualify first in the group.
“After that we need luck with the draw.”
City captain Vincent Kompany hailed the growing maturity of his side to have qualified from, on paper, the most difficult group in this season’s draw with two games to spare.
However, he also warned that their job is not done with the visit to Juventus and a home game against Borussia Monchengladbach to come.
“It is a difficult group and for us to be qualified with two games to spare it is an incredible achievement,” he told BT Sport.
“It would be a first for us to finish first in the group and that is important.
“We’ve been unlucky in the draws before and we need to make sure we can reach the first spot now.”
Sevilla had taken City all the way before losing out to Kevin de Bruyne’s stoppage-time goal when the sides met at the Etihad two weeks ago.
And Sevilla coach Unai Emery admitted the improvement in City’s level of performance had just been too good for his side to handle.
“We managed to play a very good game there and limit their strengths. Their ability here was greater, but I have nothing to reproach my team for,” he said.
“We knew they had pace on the counter attack and they were very efficient.
“City’s response was that of a top team in the Champions League.”
A third consecutive Champions League defeat for Sevilla leaves them third in the group, five points behind Juventus.
“We are third after four games. That is the logical order of the group and we still have a chance at second,” added Emery.
However, Sevilla midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak admitted the Europa League winners in the last two seasons have huge improvements to make to progress at Champions League level.
“We are still lacking in many aspects of attack and defence. Our team has quality, but we haven’t proved it and that’s why we lost the game.
“City were very strong today. Our fans made the effort the Champions League demands but we didn’t.”