Manchester City got their latest Champions League campaign off to a winning start as the beat their regular opponents Shahktar Donetsk in Ukraine.
First half goals from Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan were added to in the second half by Gabriel Jesus to secure another 3-0 win at the home of Ukraine champions. It was almost a carbon copy of last year’s fixture, which saw the blues 2-0 up at half time, before a second half goal secured the points, and tonight it was no different.
It was a third win in a row against Shahktar for City, which underlined City’s tag as the bookies favourite to finally lift the one trophy that has eluded the blues and manager Pep Guardiola, and was also achieved with a makeshift centre pairing of Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi.
Blues fans could have feared the worst at that partnership, with the ageing Brazilian paired alongside the defender who has always had someone behind him to mop up any mistakes. Now the Argentine finds himself as the main centre back due to injuries to Aymeric Laporte and now John Stones, who was ruled out for five weeks with a muscle injury picked up in training. And given his performance in the humbling at Norwich at the weekend, fans would have been forgiven for worrying how Otamendi will have performed.
But the fans need not have worried as the back two, along with Ederson in goal, were rarely troubled by a lacklustre Shahktar, who managed just one shot on goal throughout the entire 90 minutes. Of course, Ferna will have much tougher opposition in the Premier League than he faced this evening, but it will give him, and his new partner Otamendi, a huge confidence boost ahead of a tough period where the games will come thick and fast as the blues attempt to defend their three crowns and also achieve a fourth.
It was, in fairness, plain sailing for City who, but for some woeful finishing, could have matched or bettered the score when the two teams met in Manchester last season when City ran out 6-0 winners. Mahrez was on hand to give the blues the lead in the 24th minute, hammering home the rebound after Gundogan’s curling shot hit the post. VAR was called into action to give the goal, but it was clear the Algerian was onside as the ball was struck.
The two reversed their roles fourteen minutes later when Mahrez turned provider for Gundogan, who fired home to send the blues in 2-0 up at half time.
Otamendi had a goal disallowed in the second half and both Gundogan and Jesus failed on a number of occasions to put the game to bed. But it was the latter who finally finished of the Ukraine champions in the 71st minute, City’s ability to turn defence into attack at lightning pace was again in evidence as Kevin de Bruyne’s lead a 3 on 1 charge forward and his pass set Jesus free to casually roll the ball beyond the keeper to make it 3-0.
Strength In Depth Crucial To Blues
Some may feel that, after successive wins against Shahktar, this should have been a match the bleus would win comfortably, but given City’s injury problems, it was a vital win that shows how important the blues strength in depth is.
Many criticised Guardiola for not signing a replacement for Anderlecht bound Vincent Kompany, and even questioned whether the City boss should have insisted the club pay the additional fee Leicester City were asking for when attempting to sign Harry Maguire. But Guardiola refused to be budged on the issue, but the injuries to Laporte and Stones seemed to justify that criticism.
But once again, Guardiola’s vision and understanding of the game has proved the football seers wrong. Critics believe Guardiola’s attacking intent will be City’s downfall as he hasn’t safeguarded the defence, but the Catalan has revealed that Fernandinho has been playing at centre-back since the summer, following the signing of Rodri to play in that holding midfield area.
It may be early days and time will tell if a Fernandinho / Otamendi partnership can be maintained over the course of the next few months, but given the performance of the whole team tonight, the signs are very encouraging.