Manchester City advanced to the quarterfinals of the Champions League on Tuesday, disintegrating Schalke Boba Fett-style by a 7-0 score in the home leg, culminating in a aggregate total of 10-2.
The Blues entered the match with a heavy advantage over their German opponents after scoring 3 goals in Gelsenkirchen, but Pep Guardiola wasn’t taking any chances with his lineup, especially after the ludicrous results from last week’s round of Champions League fixtures. Guardiola selected a strong lineup with mostly straightforward choices, with the exception of Danilo getting the nod in central defense as City’s center back depth has taken a toll recently. Furthermore, Leroy Sane made his return to the starting eleven against his former club.
On the other side, there were reports earlier in the week that Schalke manager Domenico Tedesco would play his “B-squad” in an attempt to avoid any psychological damage to his team in the midst of a relegation battle. Tedesco made those reports seem foolish after selecting a fairly strong squad (for Schalke standards) with a few instances of rotation, most notably Breel Embolo on the right side of the midfield. But maybe he should have gone with the B-squad because there wasn’t any collection of eleven players Tedesco could pick that would have stopped City from running roughshod over Schalke, especially when the fans bringing the heat with this awesome ship going through the stands prior to kickoff.
The opening 30 minutes of the match was quite uneventful actually. City were patient in their buildup knowing they didn’t have to do anything except not give up two goals to advance, while Schalke were conservative in their own right in an attempt to avoid the exact result that occurred. Sitting in a 5-4-1 formation, the German side looked to break on the counter just as they had in the first leg and hope for the bounces/calls to go their way.
Though it was clear from the get-go that Schalke were going home unhappy. City’s first great chance came in the 14th minute when a through ball from right back Kyle Walker released Raheem Sterling in behind the defense. His cutback pass found striker Sergio Aguero who got a clean look at goal but sent it wide. Over the course of the next twenty minutes, City’s two best chances came off free kick opportunities despite resulting in a foul against the Blues (16’) and a save by Schalke keeper Ralf Fährmann (31’).
This match truly opened up with ten minutes to go in the first half, when Ilkay Gundogan, reprising his role in the defensive midfield, chipped a ball into the six-yard box to Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese midfielder was impeded by Jeffrey Bruma and a penalty was awarded. Sergio Aguero stepped up to the spot and fooled Fährmann with a cheeky panenka and the matchup felt all but over.
The Blues were just getting started at this point. Schalke actually put together a decent counter opportunity in the 38th minute, but left themselves vulnerable on the back end. City quickly transitioned onto the front foot and Gundogan once again chipped a ball over the top to Sterling down the right wing at a full sprint. Sterling was able to settle and hold off Schalke left back Bastian Oczipka before backheeling it to the feet of Aguero. The Argentinian looked as if he would lose his feet but managed to fire a shot through the legs of Fährmann for the two goal lead.
Guardiola’s team only waited five minutes to put the ball in the back of the net once more. Left back Oleksandr Zinchenko, inverted into the midfield, played a terrific ball on the floor in behind the Schalke backline, where Leroy Sane had made a diagonal run around the outside of right back Weston McKennie. The American was caught wrongfooted and no match for Sane’s pace, who only needed one touch before firing it into the side netting. Manchester City went into the half with a three goal lead and an eye towards the quarterfinal draw on Friday.
If Schalke had any ideas that City would take it easy on them in the second half, they were proven wrong almost immediately. Tedesco tried to make a few changes to start, namely pushing Embolo into a more attacking role, amplifying the press and converting to a four-man backline. But it made no difference and he reverted to his original tactics after City’s fourth goal occurred in the 56th minute. Leroy Sane found himself dribbling at Bruma down the left and curled an inch perfect ball around the entire Schalke backline onto the run of Raheem Sterling. The Englishman caught it clean off the half volley and expertly put his shot into the side netting. The goal was originally called offside, but video assisted replay (VAR) overturned the linesman’s decision.
With the tie done and dusted, Pep made a couple early changes, bringing on Phil Foden and Gabriel Jesus for Sergio Aguero and David Silva. Both of the substitutes wanted to get in on the feeding frenzy and they certainly did just that. City’s fifth goal (72’) developed through a string of great combination passes down the left that included Sane, Foden, and Zinchenko, with the German ultimately playing the final ball across to Bernardo, who put his shot in off the post on his first touch.
Guardiola’s final change came only a minute later, bringing on Fabian Delph for Aymeric Laporte, returning to the lineup after missing a few games with a muscle injury. City had to reorient the backline, but still managed to see out the final twenty minutes of the clean sheet with Zinchenko-Danilo-Walker-Delph across the back. Let’s just take a second to note the oddity in that: two fullbacks playing center back and two midfielders playing fullback (one of which on his weak foot). Yet the Blues’ dominance continued nevertheless.
Phil Foden scored his first of many Champions League goals in the 78th minute. Zinchenko’s passing had been sublime all match and he displayed his skills once again here. He fed a ball into the feet of Leroy Sane making a horizontal run inside from his left wing position. Foden read the movement and attacked the space vacated by the defender tracking Sane, who played him in on goal. Showing the poise of a veteran, Foden sidestepped Fährmann and slotted it home. The English teenager was hungry for more, and almost put in a second after a quality dribble put him in space to fire a shot off with his right foot, unfortunately saved by the keeper.
Gabriel Jesus wasn’t going to let this game end without a goal for himself, and he did just that in the 84th minute, right about when the Schalke players had lost all will to continue playing (if they hadn’t already). The Brazilian simply lurked around the edge of the box where he received a pass from Bernardo off the right wing. Jesus was under no pressure from the defense and picked out a spot at the near post to give City their seventh goal of the day. And with a whole lot of highlights in their back pocket, the Blues were off to the Champions League quarterfinals.
If you’re a Manchester City fan (which I assume most of you are), this match was complete perfection on every single level. Every player on the pitch had an excellent game and there were few, if any, mistakes made. I was starting to get worried at Ederson at points because I was afraid he was going to do something crazy out of boredom (he didn’t).
Overall, the Blues had 73% possession and had 11 shots on goal, compared to 1 for Schalke. And I only broke down the goals for City in this match, but make no mistake, there were countless other chances that happened so an even more lopsided scoreline was certainly possible.
On an individual level, I don’t have the time or amount of words to give credit to everyone, but they were all great. Ilkay Gundogan continues to be a beast in midfield, slowing down several counters and showing an insane passing range. You could easily argue he was the best player on the pitch, though there are arguments for a couple of guys. Danilo looked comfortable and able at center back, while the hodgepodge of a backline at the end of the game was coherent. Zinchenko had another impressive showing and is a difference maker distributing from the left back position. I won’t ramble on, but the quality City showed as individuals and a collective was evident.
Now, the Manchester City community waits for Friday when we see who the Blues will face in the quarterfinals. There’s only one real “easy” draw (Porto), so it’s probably time to buckle up for a real challenge. That being said, if City can play like this, there’s might not be a team in the world that can stop them.