Manchester City secured the top spot in Group F of the Champions League on Wednesday, dispatching of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim by a 2 - 1 scoreline. The Blues wiped away any concern fans may have had coming off of the defeat against Chelsea on the weekend, as Pep Guardiola’s team were dominant despite having a collection of top players injured. The final score doesn’t even come close to giving City enough credit for their play against the German side, as they easily could have finished with 5 or 6 goals (maybe even more?).
Hoffenheim are a squad that like to get on the front foot and play with an aggressive attacking mentality. However, they are not a strong defensive team whatsoever, giving up 1.5 goals per game in the Bundesliga. As a result of these characteristics, this match was very open. The field definitely tilted toward the Hoffenheim goal, with City creating chance after chance. The Germans had their fair share of scoring opportunities in their own right, forcing Ederson to make a couple difficult saves, with saves against Andrej Kramarić and Reiss Nelson particularly coming to mind.
Though Hoffenheim caught City out of position on a few occasions, the Blues were the ones to really flex their offensive muscle over the course of the full 90 minutes.
No David Silva, no Kevin De Bruyne, no Sergio Aguero, no problem.
City had 22 shots in total, 8 of which were on target and 2 came off the post (1 of these was off a defender but still). The Blues were ridiculous on set pieces against Hoffenheim, particularly in the first half. They won an aerial duel seemingly every time and legitimately had 5 or 6 great chances that came off corners or free kicks. To be honest, I’ve never seen a team as bad at defending set pieces as this Hoffenheim team. Gabriel Jesus, John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi, and Aymeric Laporte all had clean headers that didn’t find the back of the net due to unlucky finishing or a great save by keeper Oliver Baumann.
But City did end up scoring on a set piece, with Leroy Sane equalizing on what could only be described as a picture perfect free kick.
Sane was a beast throughout the match, and was easily the best player on the pitch. WhoScored gave him a 9.7 rating while no one else even exceeded 8.0. He scored the game winning goal as well, finishing off a ruthless counter attack in the 61st minute where Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus joined Sane on a 3-vs-3 break.
Chances like this added up as the game went on. If the first half was defined by set piece opportunities, the second was defined by a free flowing buildups and numerous counterattacks. Hoffenheim didn’t really have anything to play for in this match, except for a possible Europa League berth, but is that really a prize anyone wants? With the stakes nonexistent, Nagelsmann’s already bad defense deteriorated even further as the game progressed.
The game opened up to such a degree that it’s impossible to understand how City didn’t score more. At one point, City had a 3-vs-0 break and did not score. Yes, you read that correctly. Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, and Bernardo Silva somehow got away when Hoffenheim had every single player forward for a corner. It was too good of a chance to be true and City’s overpassing was ultimately why they didn’t score.
This match also gave us the thing many City fans have been dying to see for a while now: a Phil Foden start in a meaningful match (League Cup match against Oxford doesn’t count). And we were all rewarded because he was quite good! Foden played his role well, making the high percentage pass and keeping the attack alive. There were two plays that stand out though where the young Englishman’s talent really stood out. First, he took a Raheem Sterling cross clean off the volley and ripped a shot on frame that was unfortunately saved by Baumann. Then he got free down the right and played a cross in with his off foot that Sterling should have finished. He didn’t look out of place at all among the world class players City put out there and this performance should only qualify him for more starts going forward.
Pep made three substitutions in this match, all defensive. Fabian Delph and Vincent Kompany also came on late in the second half to stabilize the defense and see out the victory.
Kyle Walker replaced John Stones at halftime, who got the start at right back. Stones looked slightly out of place as a fullback, unsure when to step forward on the counter press, resulting in a lot of space for Hoffenheim to run into through the midfield. This may have been less of a problem with Fernandinho involved, but the lack of a true defensive midfielder exacerbated Stones playing out of position. Don’t take that statement as a criticism of Ilkay Gundogan because he was actually incredible in this match. He orchestrated the attack from deep very well and upped his playmaking to fill the void left by David Silva’s absence. But he doesn’t have the same defensive aggression that Fernandinho does and Hoffenheim had more room to roam as a result.
Gabriel Jesus also deserves credit for his play. His goal scoring struggles recently have been well documented and unfortunately, he failed to get on the score sheet once again. But his work rate on both sides of the ball was great and he routinely got into dangerous scoring positions. The goal he so desperately needs is close to coming to fruition but he has been a strong contributor nonetheless in the meantime.
As the group stage wraps up, this was a really important victory for the Blues. They were in risk of finishing second in the group if they had lost Wednesday and Lyon won against Shaktar. To state the obvious, winning the group sets City up for a much better knockout round opponent in the next draw. This is more true than ever this year with the three remaining English sides finishing second in their groups (you can’t draw a team from your domestic league). Now, there are only four possible opponents City can draw: Schalke, Ajax, Atletico Madrid, and Roma. Atletico Madrid is definitely the team to avoid in that group but this is a much more appealing group to choose from than the Juventus, PSG, Bayern, etc. category. The draw takes place on December 17th so let’s all pray the football gods look down favorably upon City on that day.