The Ped intoEurope Report City 1-0 Feyenoord
The rain may have poured down at the Etihad, but it was more or less business as usual for a shadow-ish Manchester City in their final home game in the group stages of the Champions League.
Former Dutch masters Feyenoord invaded with nearly 3,000 visiting spectators plus another 2,000 without tickets and certainly made themselves heard from the moment they arrived en-bloc from the City Centre, while the odd early arrivals from the City side of things simply looked on bemused.
Out on the field, an experimental line-up saw Ederson start between the sticks, behind Walker, Otamendi, Mangala and Danilo. Yaya got himself a Champions League start with Bernardo, Gundogan, De Bruyne and Sterling up ahead behind record scorer, Aguero. The team looked solid enough and well-enough equipped to set about the job in hand.
Feyenoord had little to play for but pride although an unlikely sequence of events might have seen them gain a place in the Europa League. I suppose also they had their awesome support to play for.
Their principal objective was essentially to stop City working their oracles and to an extent, in the first half in particular they had a fair amount of success, nullifying City's efforts on goal, but without creating anything too scary themselves.
Sterling almost at once became the singled-out target for some robust treatment and both he and Aguero had reasonable penalty shouts turned away. Sterling, Bernardo, Aguero, de Bruyne and Yaya all couldn't make their opportunities count and the Dutchmen would have been more than happy to get to the break level without conceding.
City did try to get more on the front foot at the start of the second half and this yielded the usual element of pressure on the opposition, but Feyenoord were in no mood to wave the white flag. The blocks, locks and saves were to become the staple diet of the second half, but City were either profligate or simply off target. In essence it looked a bit like the Wolves match in the Carabao Cup.
Those drafted in, particularly Gundogan and Bernardo looked to be trying too hard instead of settling into the rhythm. Time and again, Bernardo found himself in a cul-de-sac with his egress routes locked down, when an early, simple pass to Walker of Yaya should have been the order of the day. This meant that attacks, normally fluid, stalled and the gaps were closed with apparent ease by the Feyenoord back row.
With the odd scare that Feyenoord gave City came the bookings. This started when Mangala uprooted someone on half way when a threat looked likely. This brought a slight shadow to probably the best ever performance we have seen from the Frenchman who instilled in me a bit more confidence than he has in the past.
A minute later de Bruyne found himself in the book for a similar situation, taking one for the team when Feyenoord look like posing a threat. The hat trick came when Danilo was also forced into emergency action near the end.
By now City had replaced their own Old Master, Yaya Toure with the World Champion, Phil Foden who immediately didn't look out of place in Europe's elite club competition, with De Bruyne having already ceded his position in favour of de Jesus.
The balance of the side looked incorrect for a large part of this match. It looked as though "inversion" was the word with Danilo and Sterling playing on the left and Bernardo on the right. The reshuffle allowed Bernardo to play more centrally meaning that Sterling could play on his favoured right, playing from out to in when there was space.
And this tactic proved to be a winner as the match moved into its last scheduled minute. Gundogan had not lit much in the way of blue touchpapers, but he found Sterling on the edge of the box. Raheem played in back to him and took an immediate return pass, again from Gundogan. This time there was no error as Sterling clipped it over the former Liverpool net minder Brad Jones to claim another three Champions League points for the Blues.
City just about deserved it on the night. It was the kind of match that might have slipped away from City two seasons ago, but such is the belief out on that field, it was never really felt that they were in danger of losing.
Sterling is certainly increasing his stock with late winners this season and is now top scorer this season. He certainly got my vote for MoTM for a positive attitude and effort in the type of match that might have seen him go missing any other season.
It was not going to be Aguero's night, despite him getting into good positions on a number of occasions. Both him and KDB were guilty of leaning back at the edge of the box and lifting goalbound shots onto the grades behind the goal.
Otamendi and Mangala seemed to work ok. We will probably see this combination a lot over the next few weeks, unless Pep dares to field Adarabioyo. Sweeper-keeper, Ederson was as watchful and alert as ever on the odd occasion he had to mop up from the back. As ever, Walker was excellent on the right, although Danilo looked a bit untidy on the left. Bernardo is getting no favours playing on the right. He is much more creative in the middle, but when your competition is David Silva and de Bruyne, chances look a bit slim.
The big matches come thick and fast now for City, but the Stretfords, who suffered a similar slip-up to Feyenoord against Basel have now changed the dynamic a little for the upcoming derby. They no doubt thought they were going to beat the Swiss easily, but defeat now means they have to take their final match against CSKA Moscow seriously ahead of the match against City. Given that they also have to play the Gooners just before the Champions League match, it could be quite a task for them.
For their part, City can afford themselves the luxury of fielding eleven wheelie bins in the barren wastes of the Ukraine, although I suspect that Pep will want them to keep up their unbeaten run, if it is still intact when the match against Shakhtar Donetsk comes around. The Stretfords would have been laughing their socks off when the hotballers of Nyon plucked out that fixture ahead of the derby, but there is a different look to it now.
I cannot leave the Ped Report without reference to dear Susan's topsy-turvy night watching her beloved Liverpool create and sacrifice a three-goal lead in sunny Sevilla. Not many teams get themselves three goals to the good at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium, but Klopp's men managed to achieve that in great style until…enter Moreno who thought it would be a good time to replicate his antics of the Europa League final a couple of years ago and hand Sevilla two lifelines before they equalised in stoppage time. On my way home from the Etihad I called her to get her verdict and her tirade reminded me of "the General" in "Dastardly and Muttley in their flying machines".
If it wasn't for hands-free I would have had to hold my phone a couple of feet from my ear. Ooh she is so passionate. I think she wants to get rid of almost everyone. Only Mane, Salah, Coutinho and Gomez escaped her wrath, you notice I didn't! Never mind, it's Chelsea up next!
For City it's the mashed potato men, Huddersfield Town at a place where the Stretfords faltered not too long ago, followed by Southampton at home. Eminently winnable but in need of concentration.