|Pic courtesy of Phil Hammond.|
City recovered from a first half where Shakthar’s positioning and energy provided plenty of puzzles for the home side to work out. Ably marshalled by the undervalued Paulo Fonseca, Shakthar were proving obstinate, clever and capable, with particular trouble coming Kyle Walker’s way through the gifted Bernard and his sidekick Ismaily. Reorganised and re-energised at half time, the breakthrough came quickly for City, with Walker pressed further forward on the right and a tighter press in the middle squeezing some of the possession out of the visitors. Although Shakhtar pressed on bravely, once a goal down the spaces started to appear and City were perhaps a little unlucky not to be further clear than the single goal by the end of 90 minutes. Sané’s profligacy, Aguero’s soft penalty miss and a number of other chances went begging, before Bernardo – left in acres of space down the right side – squared perfectly for Sterling to seal it at 2-0.
When the fussy referee Jorge Sousa finally gave in and awarded a penalty – that in fact should not have been given – City missed the chance to put some clear air between themselves and their opponents. It took until the 90th minute to seal the victory but supporters’ nerves could have been saved by taking one of a clutch of earlier chances.
Manager: Guardiola chose to stick with the relatively inexperienced (on a European front at least) Fabian Delph, resisting the obvious temptation to play Danilo, and was rewarded with a mature performance by the stand-in. The changes he made at half time had the same effect as they had done against palace at the weekend, with City appearing in a new gear with Walker pressed higher and more bite to the midfield movement, squeezing Shakhtar’s dangerous middle men when they had possession.
Ederson 8 -- What a difference a confident, competent goalkeeper makes. Made two early fast passes out to Delph and Sane in the opening minutes, which were a precursor to a range of fantastic throw-outs in the second half, one of which put Sane straight through in the opposition half for the penalty decision, practically an assist had the penalty gone in. Fast out to snatch the ball from the raiding Taison and still on the ball in injury time to make an alert save and maintain the cleansheet. Only one mistake, coming for a cross that Ivan Ordets beat him to but put his header well wide.
Kyle Walker 6 -- Left with plenty to think about by the whippet-like Bernard and Ismaily on City’s right flank, he was shunted further forward at the start of the second period and it paid immediate dividends. Fantastic ball down the line for De Bruyne to centre for Sterling’s terrible miss after 69 minutes. Skinned by the tricky Bernard in one of many second half raid down his side.
John Stones 7 -- Solid and in control despite the flurry of fast feet coming at him throughout. No hesitation in playing it straight out into touch if the agricultural approach was needed, which was only rarely the case in a cultured display of calmness and authority. Hooked clearance with outside of the boot a speciality.
Nicolas Otamendi 7 -- Likewise, played a calm part in stemming the white and orange tide of pattering feet. Got foot in on goalbound shot after 49 minutes and there to block when it was needed. Produced one great diagonal ball out to Walker on the right touchline.
Fabian Delph 8 -- Took to top level European football like a duck to water. Played left side of defensive four, which morphed to three for periods, and was faultless in his calm distribution and accurate link-up play with David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne. Great block on Taison was one of a number of well timed tackles. Slalomed out of defence to great appreciation from the crowd.
Fernandinho 9 – The experienced head in a midfield blur of tricky and talented countrymen in opposition. Involved in a fascinating battle to hold midfield ground throughout, he did himself proud against his old team mates. Marked his territory to great effect with an 11th minute tackle on Fred, as the Brazilian threatened through the middle. Was on the end of a reducer from Facundo Ferreyra ten minutes later as he fought every inch to boss the all-important zone in front of City’s defence. Vital cog.
Leroy Sane 8 -- Dozy start when he twice let the ball run out of play under his foot, the second after only 12 minutes a useful feed from Ederson, but developed quickly into one of the game’s sights to behold. A series of devastating runs down the left flank ensued, the first after 21 minutes taking him weaving past two defenders. Switched to drift in from the right but his Liverpoolesque attempt was weaker and easily held by the veteran Andriy Piatov. Speed and change of direction took him through again after 41 minutes and his shot just cleared the far post. Carried the ball too long on several occasions in the second half, particularly the chance on 86 minutes when put through down the left by Gundogan’s clever ball, he drove into the area but refused to deliver, preferring to shoot into a forest of legs. Fell very easily for the penalty.
David Silva 8 – Two early losses of control took the ball away from him in threatening positions but after that was always ready to feed Sane down the left or cut in and swap passes with De Bruyne in more central positions. Surrounded by mini Shakhtar clones, he was still the original master at keeping possession and using it positively and intelligently. Perfect cut back to find De Bruyne for the first goal and one of the passes of the match to switch direction and loft it to Aguero at the far post for a cushioned volley that was smothered by Piatov. Torrid second half for Ordets in particular, trying to track his ghost-like movements. > Gundogan 80’
Kevin de Bruyne 7 – Two attempts at early through balls failed owing to the offside flag, but when put through by Jesus, he dragged a low shot just wide of Piatov’s right post. Started and finished the move for 1-0, quickly onto a loose pass, feeding Silva to his left and drifting to the edge of the box to be found by the Spaniard’s cut-back. Prodigious strike that followed arrowed right into the top corner on an arc that kept the ball away from the dive of the ‘keeper. Despite all this, he has played much better than this on many occasions.
Sergio Aguero 6 -- Had four chances to overtake Eric Brook’s all-time scoring record, but, even when presented with a penalty, he did not look confident and had his weak shot palmed away by Andriy Pyatov. First shot of the night went out for a throw in, second was on target but weakly struck. Cushioned volley from Silva’s sumptuous assist also failed to go in as Piatov blocked in extremis. 4th chance sailed past the far post. Blank night. > Bernardo 83’
Gabriel Jesus 6 -- Quiet night for the Brazilian and was taken off to be replaced by Raheem Sterling after only 53 minutes. Had put De Bruyne through for the shot he dragged wide and produced one or two nice moments before being crowded out and fading noticeably. > Sterling 53’
Raheem Sterling 7 -- Arrived early in the second period and took to the right wing. Should have scored almost straight away, skewing a tremendous chance wide with his left foot after being set up perfectly in front of goal by De Bruyne’s flat cross. Put away his second chance but even that went in off the crossbar. Direct running troubled a tired defence and perhaps did not get the penalty he deserved because the fussy Jorge Sousa had already given one he shouldn’t have for Sane’s floppy collapse.
Ilkay Gundogan NR – First touch led to a sprightly 70 yard run and set up Sane perfectly late on with a slide rule pass that his countryman squandered selfishly. No obvious after effects to the nasty-looking injury against West Brom and a pleasure to see him running confidently and without fear.
Bernardo Silva NR -- Highly energetic cameo from the wiry Portuguese, setting up Sterling for the clincher after a great run in from the right flank. Only on the pitch for 7 minutes, but spent plenty of energy closing down the keeper and defenders to help run down the clock with the ball pinned back in Shakhtar’s half.