A coming of age (part whatever), City’s most complete Champions League performance, a triumph in Seville, call it what you want, I didn’t see THAT coming, and City were simply magnificent.
All the talk was of rain, fans being attacked, and whether Pellegrini would be pragmatic like he was at Old Trafford.
A nice comic touch from City fans to hold up pieces of paper with BOO on them. I just hope for the club’s sake they were written in a UEFA-accredited font.
Meanwhile, United’s OFFICIAL supporters’ group were counting the number of City fans in the ground an hour before kick-off. No, really.
And the team sheet suggested Pellegrini was indeed pragmatic. He gave us what we wanted, namely Fernando in defensive midfield (how times change), with Fernandinho and Yaya as the other two “central” midfielders.
But with that news came the surprising omission of Kevin De Bruyne, relegated to the bench. Surprising, but perhaps with reflection, not really.
So why was he on the bench? Saturday’s game showed he was clearly showing the strain of two games a week, as I alluded to in the match report, so it made sense for that reason, though my first thought was to wonder why then he wasn’t rested for the Norwich game and played in Sevilla? But then…
Pellegrini probably wanted to keep it tight, and it made perfect sense to look to hit Sevilla on the break, and there’s no better way to do that than with pace. Sterling’s threat could have been nullified at home to Norwich against a team with men behind the ball.
Anyway, it worked, though far more dramatically than I or even Pellegrini could have dreamed about.
Yep, City started on fire. They tore at the home team, with Fernandinho shooting on goal within 30 seconds, and Bony looking lively, though it was Sterling along with the aforementioned Brazilian whot was truly sparkling, tearing into Sevilla’s defence time after time.
Thankfully the narrative of another non-award for a blatant penalty was not to become the story of the night, as City took a well-deserved lead soon after. There was no surprise in Fernandinho being the supplier, freeing Sterling in the inside left channel, and he slid it past the keeper on his weaker foot. I think that’s the 6th goal of the season for the player who can’t shoot and will spend his City career warming the bench. He is also City’s youngest ever scorer in the Champions League.
Which when you come to think about it, isn’t THAT impressive a stat. Still, well done him.
City did not ease off however. Sterling cut back for Bony, whose shot was parried by Rico, and Fernandinho leapt like the world’s fittest salmon to head home into the now unguarded net. The home support were stunned, as was I.
It could have been three. A Navas shot was superbly tipped onto the post by the keeper, and the home side were being swamped across the pitch.
The central midfield trio worked superbly. Fernando was the pivot, allowing Yaya to get forward without worrying about defending, not that he does lose much sleep over such matters, whilst Fernandinho could be the box-to-box player we all love.
It was now that Sevilla had their only sustained pressure of the game, for about 15 minutes, and it brought a goal back, though not before Llorente had spooned the ball over the bar from just a few yards from what looked an offside position to me (no replay seen though). Otamendi, keen not to concede a penalty, let Coke past him too easily, who chipped to the far post for left-back Benoit Tremoulinas to head home easily.
Damn. Now City were on the back front after such an explosive start. A key moment was to follow, Hart saving superbly from a header, but City continued to threaten themselves, and the home side’s threat waned. Bony was leading the line well, and he got his reward when he swept in a Navas cross to restore the two-goal lead. By half-time, City had had 16 attempts on goal, and their lead was fully merited.
A response was expected from Sevilla in the second half, but the truth is that City repelled their threat well, limited chances whilst creating chance after chance at the other end, without reward. There were so many I can’t recall them all – Sterling jinked into the area but saw his effort blocked, Yaya curled one wide, Bony missed a great chance by shooting wide, the keeper superbly saved another of his chances, and there was more. Fernandinho also had a shot saved from a Sterling cut-back – both continued to prosper.
Sevilla never had time to settle. The City players were well up for it, and closed down the home players at every opportunity. They were reduced to endless deep crosses that City’s defensive pairing repelled well, and City’s offside trap worked a treat on numerous occasions. The clock ticked down, and in the end it was comfortable.
For me, there were two truly impressive things to come out of last night’s match. Firstly, the team shape was spot on, and it made Sevilla look like a terrible team, which they are not – so City must have made them look that way. Secondly, it really could have been seven or eight, and City sliced open the home side at will during certain parts of the game.
Let’s make it clear, Sevilla are a phenomenal force at home. Apart from their multiple Europa League titles and clear European credentials, they have built a fortress at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium. Ok, maybe less this season, but it was enough of one to defeat Barcelona recently, and European home defeats were a distant memory – Sevilla had won their previous 10 home European ties.
Man of the Match? Too many to choose from. Sterling was electric, tearing apart the Sevilla defence time after time. Fernando was a rock sweeping up in front of the defence and Navas excelled once more against his old team – he has been excellent for many weeks now. Bony held the line well and peppered the Sevilla goal throughout, the defence were excellent in dealing with multiple threats, Yaya was allowed to be destructive up the field, Hart made a crucial save and distributed the ball well, but for me it has to be Fernandinho, who was everywhere, and ran the show. He continues to make strong claims for being our player of the season.
I was surprised to see Delph come on however. Loved the warm-down, however. With a possibly poisonous atmosphere awaiting him on Sunday, it would have been easy for Delph to have been kept under wraps until after the international break. Maybe he wants to play there, or at least be in the squad.
And so with a draw in Germany, City are through after four games, despite losing their first fixture, at home. A great achievement in a tough group (though not quite a “group of death”), the aim now is to win the group. Win in Juventus and that will do it, though winning our last home game could be enough on its own as well. Either way, with qualification in the bag, we can enjoy a couple of Champions League games for once. I never thought that day would come.
I’ve no idea what the best team is for Sunday though, especially if Silva is back.
Oh, and just to make it clear – I’ve always loved the Champions League. What a great, noble competition – shame on anyone who doesn’t. #cheer