Thursday 21 November 2019

Aguero misses chance at record but De Bruyne sees City home

Manchester City 2-0 Shakhtar

De Bruyne: On target. Photo: Reuters
De Bruyne: On target. Photo: Reuters

James Ducker

The game was only 148 seconds old when Sergio Aguero shaped to shoot and then shanked the ball out for a throw-in on the far side.

It would prove that sort of night for the Manchester City striker, summed up by a missed penalty in the second half that denied the Argentine the goal that would have drawn him level with Eric Brook as the club's all-time record scorer on 177 goals.

It was also indicative of a game that City made heavy weather of, a flurry of missed chances keeping Shakhtar Donetsk in with a chance until Raheem Sterling finally claimed the second goal Pep Guardiola must have thought would never come in the 90th minute.

The City manager had dived on to his back in a manner reminiscent of Louis van Gaal for Manchester United against Arsenal last year shortly before then but there was no danger of his side slipping up once Sterling had rifled home Bernardo Silva's pass.

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring their second goal. Photo: Reuters
Manchester City's Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring their second goal. Photo: Reuters

City have been blowing away teams this season but they demonstrated an ability here to grind out an important win when well below their energetic best, a trait they will undoubtedly have to show again if they are serious about progressing far in the competition.

Two wins from two now leaves City well placed in Group F with another home match to come next, against Napoli.

City had actually had the better chances by the time the teams departed for the interval, Kevin De Bruyne shooting wide of a post after being released through on goal by Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane dragging a shot across goal after a wonderful turn of speed had seen him cut open the Shakhtar defence.

But this was probably City's least comfortable 45 minutes of the campaign.

Manchester City's Sergio Aguero with manager Pep Guardiola as he is substituted. Photo: Reuters
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero with manager Pep Guardiola as he is substituted. Photo: Reuters

Shakhtar's tricky trio of diminutive Brazilians behind Argentina target man, Facundo Ferreyra, seldom gave City's back four any rest and it is on these occasions that you have to sympathise to a degree with Fernandinho given how advanced the rest of the midfield is ahead of him.

City are accustomed to pegging teams back but the Ukrainian champions spent plenty of time in their opponents' half, looking wherever possible to get in behind Kyle Walker and run at John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi.

City were indebted to a fine challenge from Fernandinho to thwart Bernard as he surged into the penalty area in the 24th minute and to Ederson for tipping aside a curling shot from Marlos soon after that was heading for the far corner.

It was why De Bruyne's moment of inspiration just three minutes after the restart was so welcome. City really needed to get their noses in front and it was the Belgian who forced the issue. Intercepting a pass from Fred near the halfway line that had been intended for Marlos, De Bruyne strode forward, found David Silva then drifted to the right to await the return ball. It duly arrived and from there the midfielder arced a 25-yard shot into the top corner that Andriy Pyatov might have got a hand to had he bothered to dive.

There are three areas in this City squad where Guardiola is short of quality cover - centre-half, full-back and defensive midfield - so the sight of left-back Benjamin Mendy joining captain Vincent Kompany and midfielder Ilkay Gundogan on the sidelines will be of concern to the manager. Mendy is heading to Barcelona to be assessed by orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Ramon Cugat, Guardiola's most trusted specialist, amid concern that the France defender could have damaged ligaments in his right knee against Crystal Palace at the weekend. That would be a severe blow to City, although Fabian Delph equipped himself well at left-back.

That Shakhtar entered the final 15 minutes still in the game owed everything to City's profligacy. Raheem Sterling, introduced for Jesus early in the second half, was the first to err, the England forward meeting De Bruyne's dream of a cross with his left foot but succeeding only in slicing the ball wide of the post.

Then came Aguero's penalty miss and another spate of spurned chances before Sterling added a second and everyone at City was left to breathe a little easier.

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