Manchester City host holders Bayern Munich in the Champions League with striker Edin Dzeko enjoying a new lease of life that he says is down to the club bringing in a manager who backs his players rather than criticizing them.
City appointed Manuel Pellegrini in June to replace the sacked Roberto Mancini, who was popular with fans for ending the club’s 35-year trophy drought but prone to public condemnation of players who had not performed well.
Dzeko was one of those to feel the biting tongue of Mancini and increasingly found himself out of favour. Even when the Bosnian did play, he seemed to lack the spark that made him such a potent force for VfL Wolfsburg before his 2011 move to City.
However, reassuring words from Pellegrini who quickly said that the striker was central to his plans, seem to have done the trick.
“The manager is very important, for every player it is important that the manger believes in him and gives him that confidence which can change everything,” Dzeko told a news conference on the eve of Wednesday’s Champions League game.
Dzeko has scored four goals in all competitions this season and is playing with a self-assurance and hunger that City fans have not seen for a long time.
It is not only the change of manager that is driving the players forward but also Pellegrini’s efforts to instil a more attack-minded style of play that they showed to such devastating effect in a 4-1 thumping of Manchester United last month.
They are still finding their way with this new approach and there have been blips, including Saturday’s shock 3-2 defeat by Aston Villa where lapses of concentration cost them dearly in a performance in which they also showed flair.
But when it works, it cuts teams apart and they will be hoping to show a more polished version of the United showing when they host European champions Bayern in Group D.
“People are expecting us to play like that and that is what we are trying to do with the new manager, to play aggressive, quick and attacking football,” Dzeko said.
“I think we showed that also against a big club in Manchester United so why shouldn’t we go forward with that and be more consistent with those games.”
Pellegrini is all too familiar with the man who will be in the visitors’ dugout - Pep Guardiola - having faced him several times when the Spaniard was Barcelona boss and the Chilean was in charge at Real Madrid, Villarreal and Malaga.
In eight La Liga meetings with Guardiola, Pellegrini avoided defeat only once but he said that had no bearing on Wednesday’s game.
“I don’t play tomorrow against Pep Guardiola,” he said. It’s Bayern against Manchester City ... The past is the past, we are seeing tomorrow what happens in the future.”
Pellegrini, who is aiming to improve City’s record in Europe’s elite club competition where they have fallen at the group stage in the last two seasons, is boosted by the return of attacking midfielder David Silva.
“David is tomorrow in the squad list, I think he can play at least some minutes tomorrow,” Pellegrini said of the player who has been sidelined for the past month with a thigh injury.
Sergio Aguero, rested against Villa, is also available.
Two years ago City and Bayern were in the same Champions League group and although the English side beat the Germans in the home match their visitors had already qualified for the knockout stage.
Dzeko said experience of recent seasons and bringing in Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Steven Jovetic had improved City.
“We are definitely better this year than last year,” he said.