Sané ensures City bounce back with double blast to reel in Hoffenheim
Manchester City 2-1 Hoffenheim
Pep Guardiola remains insistent that Manchester City cannot be considered favourites to win this year's Champions League, but with this victory over Hoffenheim, the club's latest attempt to claim European football's ultimate prize for the first time remains on track.
Two Leroy Sané goals - one spectacular free-kick, the other from of a fine counter - ensured that City finish as winners of Group F. One of Atletico Madrid, Schalke 04, Ajax or Roma await in the round of 16. City will not fear any of them.
Guardiola may be concerned by the slow start his side made, conceding early on to Andrej Kramaric from the penalty spot, though he will be equally enthused by their resurgence from thereon and the absence of any hangover from the defeat at Chelsea.
City required only a draw to guarantee top spot in Group F and were expected to find it against a side likely to finish bottom of the group, though it was Hoffenheim who made all the early running. Kramaric, who spent so much time on the fringes at Leicester City during their title-winning campaign that he was ineligible for a winner's medal, took centre stage on this return to England.
The Croat had a host of early chances, first narrowly shooting across the face of goal, then firing over the crossbar when in space on the edge of the box, and also seeing a fine, curling effort force Ederson into a fingertip save. No matter. He would open the scoring a minute later. Following the breakdown of the resulting corner, Aymeric Laporte hauled Benjamin Hubner to the floor when the Hoffenheim centre-half was bearing down on the City goal. Referee Andreas Ekberg pointed to the spot and, this time, Ederson could not deny Kramaric.
City responded well, coming close to an equaliser with three separate headed attempts. Gabriel Jesus was unfortunate to turn Sané's corner against the bottom of the post, John Stones was superbly denied lowdown by Oliver Baumann and City then struck the woodwork for a second time, Nicolas Otamendi hitting the crossbar.
Yet the fact all these attempts coming from set-pieces betrayed the fact this was not the usual incisive, hot-knife-through-butter City. When the equaliser arrived on the cusp of half time, it was from another dead ball, albeit one struck sweet and true.
The pace and placement on Sané's free-kick, hit from around 30 yards out after Jesus drew a foul, meant Baumann could do nothing to prevent it from nestling in the far corner.
Having been pegged back, Hoffenheim pushed up. This allowed City more space in behind, though they continued to threaten from set plays too. Laporte nearly atoned for conceding the penalty, but his header and rebound were saved by Baumann.
The Hoffenheim goalkeeper then somehow came out on top in a three-on-one after every one of his team-mates were caught upfield on a corner. Sané, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva broke, though contrived to squander the chance.
City's next significant counter-attack would prove more fruitful. Hoffenheim again committed too many men forward, though this time Sané and Sterling kept the ball between themselves. A one-two covering some 50 yards ended with Sané bearing down on goal and applying a neat, composed finish.
With a lead now established, City's evening would be rounded off nicely if Phil Foden could write his name on the scoresheet. The locally-sourced academy talent was trusted to start after signing a new six-year contract this week and twice came close to scoring his first Etihad goal.
Foden could have punished Hoffenheim for gifting him space on the edge of the penalty area at one point, but the 18-year-old's effort flew well over. He came much closer a few minutes later, connecting sweetly and on the volley, only for Baumann to punch over.
Independent News Service