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Sunday 22 April 2018

Pellegrini: It's very important for us to get to last 16

MANCHESTER CITY manager Manuel Pellegrini believes the club are close to taking a significant step forward in their bid to join Europe's footballing elite.

City have won the FA Cup and the Premier League since the 2008 Abu Dhabi-funded takeover that transformed their fortunes and making an impact on the continent is their next objective.

After exiting at the group stage of the Champions League in each of the past two seasons, City are now potentially within 90 minutes of reaching the last 16 for the first time.

Victory over CSKA Moscow in their latest Group D fixture at the Etihad Stadium would be enough to secure their route through if Bayern Munich also avoid an unlikely defeat to minnows Viktoria Plzen.

Pellegrini accepted qualification as a minimum requirement when he took charge of the club in the summer and recognises its importance.

He said: "For Manchester City it would be a really great achievement.

"We all know what happened the last two years – they couldn't get to the round of 16.

"For a club that is trying to grow every day, to go to the next round is very important."

Defender Pablo Zabaleta believes the time is right to make the leap, having witnessed all of the developments over the past five years first hand. Zabaleta joined the club the day before Sheikh Mansour took over and began the big spending that accelerated City's development.

The Argentinian said: "We know that the owners been spending much money to try and build a good team and try to have one of the best teams in Europe.

"Sometimes it takes time. We won the FA Cup and the Premier League, (but) the Champions League is a different competition. You play against the best teams in Europe.

"It is time for this club to take a step forward."

City beat CSKA 2-1 when the sides met on a poor surface in the Russian capital a fortnight ago.

One notable change since then is that Joe Hart has been deposed as number one goalkeeper and replaced by Costel Pantilimon after a series of errors.

Pantilimon made his Premier League debut in Saturday's 7-0 demolition of Norwich and Pellegrini has confirmed he will continue.

Pellegrini said: "I don't when Joe will come back to the team. We will see in the future what we must do. For today, Pantilimon is playing."

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