Saturday 16 December 2017

Slick City issue declaration of European intent by hammering holders

Manchester City 4 Porto 0 (City win 6-1 on agg)

Manchester City's Edin Dzeko (L) celebrates scoring against Porto with team-mates David Silva, James Milner and Sergio Aguero during their Europa League second leg match against Porto in Manchester last night
Manchester City's Edin Dzeko (L) celebrates scoring against Porto with team-mates David Silva, James Milner and Sergio Aguero during their Europa League second leg match against Porto in Manchester last night

Ian Herbert

Playing football in the late-afternoon drizzle is beginning to feel a little less comical than it first seemed.

Andre Villas-Boas, who was here to watch the side he made into reigning Europa League champions, could have been forgiven a twinge of envy for Roberto Mancini and for the spirit of European adventure which is beginning to take hold in the re-established capital of British football.

There are four rounds of Europa League competition to play and many miles around lesser appreciated areas of the continent to travel before the notion becomes reality, but few can resist at least discussing the prospect of this season of extraordinary Manchester rivalry going all the way to a Bucharest final between City and United on May 9.

The fates must conspire in such an outcome, since there is an open draw from the quarter-finals on. But the manner of Porto's elimination was certainly a declaration of intent.

The result was no foregone conclusion. The defence Villas-Boas built in Portugal looked every bit as flimsy as the one he has fashioned at Chelsea, but the holders enjoyed considerable possession and forced two fine saves from Joe Hart.

But Porto's hopes of a first win in England in 16 attempts were placed in perspective in the 19 seconds it took Sergio Aguero to put City ahead. Nicolas Otamendi's wayward ball out of defence was intercepted by Nigel de Jong, who found Yaya Toure to produce a gorgeous ball through Porto's defence which Aguero drilled home for his 20th goal of the season.

The Portuguese champions were not without a threat, especially from the Brazilian Hulk, with his low-driven crosses.

But they didn't have a notion of how to deal with the drenched and muddied figure of Aguero. Rolando hacked at him and was booked.

Goalkeeper Helton ran at him as he advanced to take a lofted pass that David Silva played after intercepting another lazy ball. Aguero nodded the ball beyond him and clipped it back over Fernando and on to the underside of the bar.

City were prepared to sit deep in the first half and damage their visitors on the counter-attack. If others had been as sure-footed as Aguero, they might have been three ahead. Nasri took a touch when he should have lifted a ball which Helton's block took to his feet. Toure decided to funnel the ball back to Aguero, five minutes from the interval, when he should have shot. This time, the Argentinian blasted over.

Porto flickered after the break. James Rodriguez's effort from Maicon's low cross before the hour was only marginally offside and Toure's booking for a hack at Joao Moutinho ensured that he will miss the first leg of the last-16 tie. But Aguero instilled a sense of the indomitable in his side, foraging for a ball exchanged with Silva before playing in the unmarked Edin Dzeko for his 17th of the season.

Rolando's sense of injustice -- he believed, wrongly, that Dzeko was offside -- saw him dismissed for a second caution. Then there unfolded a fine, 10-minute cameo from David Pizarro, City's loan signing from Roma, who seized on another sloppy piece of Porto defence, exchanged passes with Dzeko and cut the ball back for Silva to finish.

An intricate move on the edge of the box involving Pizarro and Dzeko then led Porto sub Christian Sapunaru to skew the ball into Pizarro's path. He scored, creating a scoreline that rather flattered City.

It was a night when the need for Carlos Tevez's return looked far-fetched. Mancini welcomes his apology but his decision to omit him from his Europa League squad does not seem a gamble.

The second of two sharp Hart saves revealed that such an emphatic elimination of the holders was not a minor conquest. City mean business. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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