Saturday 24 March 2018

Toure de force gets City off to perfect start

Plzen 0 Manchester City 3

Manchester City's Yaya Toure (L) and Samir Nasri celebrate Toure's goal against Viktoria Plzen
Manchester City's Yaya Toure (L) and Samir Nasri celebrate Toure's goal against Viktoria Plzen

Mark Ogden in Plzen

So Manchester City did not follow the script after all. In the birthplace of Skoda, Manuel Pellegrini's team avoided another stalled start to a Champions League campaign by cruising to victory.

In truth, the Premier League's great European pretenders spent the first half spluttering into life before ruthlessly killing off the Czech champions with three goals in 10 minutes after the restart.

After two years of performing like a high-powered engine running on the wrong fuel in Europe, goals from Edin Dzeko, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero secured City's first away victory in this competition since an equally emphatic success against Villarreal in November 2011.

With captain Vincent Kompany emerging unscathed following his first 90 minutes since suffering a groin injury last month, the trip to Plzen could not have gone much better for Pellegrini and his players. The victory was also perfectly timed, with Manchester United due at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

Twelve months ago, City began their fruitless Champions League group campaign with a 3-2 defeat at Real Madrid, but this quiet corner of the Czech Republic was a wholly different occasion and Pellegrini's players should have made more of their welcoming surroundings.


City were sluggish in the first half, though, and their build-up play too slow to punish the hosts. They had enough chances to score before half-time, however, and they were denied by a combination of bad luck and poor finishing. Aguero was certainly unfortunate not to score when his low shot from 20 yards hit the post on 26 minutes, but Dzeko and Toure were both guilty of awful misses with close-range headers.

Dzeko somehow directed his effort from Aleksandar Kolarov's cross straight into the hands of goalkeeper Matus Kozacik from two yards when it seemed easier to score.

Plzen grew in confidence as the game wore on, buoyed by the knowledge that 10 of their last 11 home games in Europe have resulted in victories. AC Milan failed to win here in the 2011-12 group stages, while Napoli suffered a 5-0 aggregate defeat in last season's Europa League.

So it was clear that City would have to overcome a determined opponent if they were to claim their first Champions League win since December 2011.

City's laboured build-up during the first half was as though they had their foot on the brake, but they approached the second half in a more determined fashion and Dzeko delivered the reward with his 48th-minute opener.

Although the Bosnian deserves credit for his calm finish, after being teed up by Aguero's square ball outside the penalty area, the Argentinian forward made the goal with his persistence and honesty.

With Plzen defender Lukas Hejda doing his best to haul Aguero to the ground, the striker stayed on his feet and escaped the centre-half before releasing Dzeko, who overcame his earlier misses with a decisive strike.

From that point on, City were in cruise control and they had the victory secured by the hour mark.

Toure, who had been off the pace in the first half, is often at his best when playing in the advanced role behind the forwards and, after being caught between that position and a holding role alongside Fernandinho, the Ivorian delivered emphatic evidence of his offensive qualities by curling the ball into the net from 25 yards.

At 2-0, the self-doubt and tension of the last two campaigns appeared to lift and Aguero made it 3-0 on 58 minutes with another spectacular effort from distance. City's luck held until the end of the game, with Joe Hart securing his fourth clean sheet of the season when Tomas Horava hit the post in the 89th minute.

The challenge for City now is to prove that they can be as destructive and ruthless against the very best, rather than the minnows of the Champions League.

They will not have long to wait before they can measure themselves against the best of the lot, with Bayern Munich due at the Etihad Stadium in two weeks' time. If City win that one, they will really be motoring. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Indo Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport