Manchester City went on the road and strolled to a 3 - 0 victory against Shaktar Donetsk on Tuesday. Goals from David Silva, Aymeric Laporte, and substitute Bernardo Silva fueled the Blues to a much needed three points in Champions League play. City now sit atop Group F with six points after Hoffenheim salvaged a draw in stoppage time against Lyon.
The best word to describe this match from a City perspective is comfortable. Everything Pep Guardiola’s team did was done with ease and confidence, operating well together in all aspects of the game. The defense was consistently in sync, maintaining their line forward and backward in coordination, while filling in for each other perfectly when a teammate was pulled out of position. The only moments City looked vulnerable were a consequence of nonchalant passing that led to unforced giveaways, similar to the Burnley match. When City weren’t gifting Shaktar with enticing openings to attack an exposed defense, they really had a easy time dispatching of the Ukrainian side’s buildup. Even with City not dominating the possession battle (53%) like they usually do, the periods of Shaktar possession lacked purpose and were mostly devoid of scoring chances.
The final tally of three goals could have been much more (how often have we said this?) with chances galore coming throughout the match. Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez, David Silva, and Raheem Sterling all had three or more quality chances that I can think of just off the top of my head. If not for some shaky finishing and strong emergency blocks from Shaktar’s defense, some of those chances could have easily ended up in the back of the net.
Gabriel Jesus was a surprise start up top with Sergio Aguero showing great form recently. Though the Brazilian is struggling for goals at the moment, he still possesses a tremendous work rate which he displayed again on Tuesday. He’s an asset dropping into the midfield or flaring out wide to pick up possession and it really seemed like this was the match where he’d get back on a scoring roll. It didn’t happen unfortunately, but he found a way to contribute despite the frustration he must be feeling. He definitely didn’t create the first goal but played a big part in it, as he was able to receive a pass from Benjamin Mendy at the box before quickly turning and firing a shot towards goal. His attempt was blocked but bounced up and over the backline to the waiting David Silva, who slid it past Shaktar keeper Andriy Pyatov expertly.
Jesus was accompanied in the attack by Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez, both of whom were influential throughout. Shaktar were not shy to move their attack forward, leaving City space to counter where these wingers are at their best. Sterling made a few tremendous dribbles into the teeth of the defense (unfortunately ended in blocked shots), resulting in Shaktar’s backline looking intimidated when he had the ball at his feet. Mahrez created a collection of chances in his own right due to intelligent passing on top of some world class technical skills. Often when teams play a horizontal long ball to switch the play, the defense is given time to recover as the receiving player settles and gains control. Not Mahrez though, his touch is so good that he can take a cross-field ball, deaden it, and immediately go at a defense still in the process of recovering laterally. He’s become a tremendous player for Pep and Manchester City after a somewhat shaky start this season.
Guardiola deployed his strongest possible midfield with David Silva, Fernandinho, and a now fully fit Kevin De Bruyne. David Silva and Fernandinho played up to their normal great standard while KDB showed flashes that a return to form is imminent. The Belgian only went about two thirds of the game as he works up to full fitness, but it’s no coincidence that City looked as fluid as ever with him on the pitch. His presence gives the squad two fulcrums (David Silva being the other) that really sets the Blues apart from their European and domestic competition. Not to mention, it’s really not fair that City can bring in Bernardo Silva for De Bruyne like that. The Portuguese international came in and scored a great goal within a literal minute of being on the pitch, that kind of quality off the bench is just unreal.
The lineup was filled out by a four-man backline with Benjamin Mendy, Aymeric Laporte, Nicolas Otamendi, and John Stones at right back once again. The way the defense moved was probably the most interesting aspect of this game from a tactical perspective. With Shaktar sitting in what could most accurately be described as a 4-4-2 in defense, the central midfield was often clogged during City’s buildup. But similar to the Burnley match, Pep had his fullbacks and Fernandinho flowing in and out of multiple positions to pull on the strings of the Shaktar midfield. Fernandinho would regularly drop into the backline, both in between and outside, while the fullbacks tucked into the defensive midfield. Alternatively, Stones would fall back to push the center backs into a back three while Mendy pushed forward (giving an interesting asymmetric formation) or in. City used pretty much any combination of positions for these three guys that you can imagine, and to great effect.
Collectively, the Blues played a tremendous game in every avenue and have completely erased an concern the opening Champions League match may have caused. Shaktar Donetsk is lucky enough to come the Eithad in two weeks for the next Champions League round, a match City should take another victory from. Somehow, this team continues to improve and there’s a good chance their best form is yet to come.