Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

The Great Leap Forward ; Zabaleta Says a Champions League Victory Tonight over CSKA Can Prove Next Step in the Blues' March to Euro Glory

Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

The Great Leap Forward ; Zabaleta Says a Champions League Victory Tonight over CSKA Can Prove Next Step in the Blues' March to Euro Glory

Article excerpt

PABLO Zabaleta believes that City are now ready to take the next big step forward in their evolution. The Blues will qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time if they beat CSKA Moscow, unless Group D whipping boys Viktoria Plzen can win their last three matches.

And that represents the latest stage in City's advance from mid- table hopefuls towards their dream of being one of the elite European teams.

Zabaleta is a great barometer for that evolution, as he joined the club the day before Sheikh Mansour's 2008 takeover, and Cinderella-like transformation.

Indeed, the popular Argentine defender is one of only four players who have survived the tumult of the last five years, along with Joe Hart, Micah Richards and Vincent Kompany.

He has been in the thick of it as the Blues went from Europa League contenders, to FA Cup winners, to Champions league qualifiers and then to Premier League champions.

Progress Having established themselves as one of the top three in England, they now have to make serious in-roads in the Champions League.

After two seasons of failing to get out of the group stage, albeit with the extenuating circumstances of landing tough draws, just reaching the next phase is progress.

"I think in the last four or five years this club has been improving incredibly," said Zabaleta, whose personal advancement as a player reflects that of the club.

"We know that the owner has been spending a lot of money to try and build a good team and 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, and you play against the best teams in Europe.

"It is time for this club to take a step forward. If we can qualify for the next round, it will be great for this club and hopefully in the next few years we can be one of the top clubs in Europe. …

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