Tuesday 15 October 2019

Slick City find their feet again in typical style

Shakhtar Donetsk 0-3 Manchester City

Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling holds off Shakhtar’s Serhiy Bolbat during their Champions League clash in Kharkiv, Ukraine PA. Photo: AP
Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling holds off Shakhtar’s Serhiy Bolbat during their Champions League clash in Kharkiv, Ukraine PA. Photo: AP

Luke Edwards

You suspect there could be testing times ahead for Manchester City, but this was not a night for them to be worried by much as they inflicted a third successive Champions League defeat on Shakhtar Donetsk.

The Ukrainian champions are a decent side, but are simply not at City's level, who breezed through their opening group game with the same ease and coolness they had done when winning here last season.

City were not arrogant, there was no complacency, but they knew they were too good and Shakhtar were simply too worried about what their English opponents could do them, even with a patched-up back four.

Fernandinho's first start at centre-back since February was a stroll.

Not that they are in a position to switch on cruise control just yet.

As much as he may like to pretend otherwise, City's defence is going to be a worry that will put a strain on Pep Guardiola's emotions.

Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan celebrates scoring their second goal with Riyad Mahrez. Photo: Reuters
Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan celebrates scoring their second goal with Riyad Mahrez. Photo: Reuters

You cannot complete a jigsaw if you are missing some of the pieces and City have left themselves short of centre-backs.

Failed

Having failed to replace Vincent Kompany in the summer, they tempted fate and, sure enough, two have suffered injuries in quick succession, with Aymeric Laporte out of action until February and John Stones missing until November.

The sight of 18-year-old Spanish defender Eric Garcia on the bench illustrated the pertinence of the point.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola shakes hands with Shakhtar Donetsk coach Luis Castro after the match. Photo: Reuters
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola shakes hands with Shakhtar Donetsk coach Luis Castro after the match. Photo: Reuters

City are one more injury to a centre-half away from a potential disaster. Even without one, the backline has a makeshift look about it with defensive midfielder Fernandinho slotting in alongside Nicolas Otamendi.

Certainly, Shakhtar felt there were frailties to be exposed and the skill and speed of their Brazilians - Taison, Alan Patrick and Junior Moraes (who has Ukrainian citizenship) - stretched and teased the City defence.

What Shakhtar do not have - something a number of Premier League sides do, including Saturday's opponents Watford - is a big, powerful centre-forward who can physically dominate Fernandinho and worry City when crosses are fired into the box.

The Ukrainian champions are a neat, tidy team with fast runners, with and without the ball. They are not direct and did not test City at all in the air.

City held firm under some early pressure and took the lead when Gabriel Jesus teed up Ilkay Gundogan, who stroked a nonchalant, side-footed finish which came back off the post and rebounded perfectly for Riyad Mahrez.

Shakhtar conceded nine goals and scored none in their two Champions League games against City last season and were chasing the game inside the opening half an hour. It did not bode well, but they should have equalised.

Taison made a fool of Rodri on the halfway line, poking the ball through his legs and sprinting away. The City defence retreated and the Shakhtar captain did brilliantly, waiting for the perfect moment to release his pass to Junior Moraes, but his finish was poor and Ederson stood up well to block.

It was a costly miss. Seconds later and they were two down. This was City at their sublime best. Rodri spread play wide to Mahrez, who collected it on the run and darted inside the full-back. Shakhtar's defence could not reorganise and the Algerian also chose the ideal time to let go of possession, rolling a pass sideways for Gundogan to finish first time.

The Premier League champions should have made it three at the start of the second half, Taras Stepanenko passing the ball straight to Gundogan, whose shot was saved by Andriy Pyatov, before Raheem Sterling hit the post.

Still the chances kept coming. Otamendi had a goal chalked off for offside, Gundogan and Sterling got in a tangle De Bruyne dragged an effort wide. And eventually so did their third goal, De Bruyne playing in Gabriel Jesus who finished brilliantly.

Telegraph.co.uk

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