Manchester City defeated Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk by two goals to nil on Tuesday evening. Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling bagging the goals.
Having won their opening group game against Napoli, the visitors came to the Etihad Stadium to impose themselves and could have scored on at least two occasions when the game was goalless.
Had they done so, it would have been interesting to watch City react. After all, it has been a month since they conceded a goal in the Premier League.
Nevertheless, once City found something closer to their prime form in the second period, they were too good and as a result sit top of their group with two wins recorded and no goals conceded.
Here they eventually won the game courtesy of a lovely curling shot from Kevin de Bruyne in the 49th minute and a late strike from substitute Raheem Sterling. In the second half, Shakhtar were largely invisible as an attacking threat and this ended up as a game that City thoroughly deserved to win.
There was even enough breathing space for Sergio Aguero to miss a penalty. His shot was saved in the 71st minute with the score at 1-0 and he will have to wait a while before he equals Eric Brook’s record of 177 City goals.
But that day will come and that was not the story of this night. This was an evening that saw City playing efficiently rather than brilliantly and that, in some ways, will have encouraged their supporters. Efficiency has not always been a part of the City DNA down the years, after all.
Early on Guardiola’s team struggled just a little bit. In his programme notes Guardiola had written that he understood why City supporters were starting to dream of great things on the back of recent performances.
Here, though, the Catalan’s side were not at their best in the opening half. They created some opportunities as an Aguero volley was saved by the goalkeeper and De Bruyne and Leroy Sane both drove shots wide – one near post and one far past – when they only had Andriy Pyatov to beat.
What City couldn’t do, though, was monopolise possession in their usual fashion and this invited the Ukraine champions to show a little of their attacking ability.
Twice in the opening half, Shakhtar should have scored. Early on their Brazilian midfielder Fred should have asked a question of City goalkeeper Ederson only to delay his shot long enough for City’s Fernandinho to recover ground and make a good tackle.
Then, just before the interval, central defender Ivan Ordets was left totally unmarked six yards from goal only to take his eye off the incoming cross and head hopelessly wide when it seemed he must score.
At that point this was still a very even contest but teams that face City are beginning to understand an unmistakeable truth, namely that if you don’t take your chances you are likely to go home with very little.
That is what happened here. Despite City’s relatively methodical first half play, De Bruyne and the German Sane had both been dangerous. Aguero and fellow striker Gabriel Jesus had been a little peripheral but the two supporting players had carried menace.
As such it was no surprise that De Bruyne made the decisive contribution. A pass infield from Shakhtar’s Marlos went straight to the Belgian and when he exchanged passes with his captain David Silva and moved infield, space opened up.
12 – Kevin De Bruyne has been directly involved in 12 goals in his last 12 games for Man City in all comps (3 goals, 9 assists). Class. pic.twitter.com/apa6HHHwRF
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 26, 2017
There was still much to do but De Bruyne is a rare talent and he has impressed this season so far.
Briefly, Guardiola looked anxious, but then it rarely takes much. At one stage he threw himself to the ground in frustration. Some chances then came and went as Sterling missed from six yards and Sane was denied by the keeper’s midriff.
But when Bernardo Silva broke in the 90th minute and crossed well, Sterling rammed in the second goal off the underside of the bar from eight yards.
In the end, the scoreline was about right and although Shakhtar will be doughty opposition for City in the Ukraine later this season, it seems unfeasible that the English team will not have already qualified by then.