Manchester City guarantee top spot at apathetic Etihad
Raheem Sterling’s late goal was enough for the home side to win and secure first place
Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling score’s the winning goal for his side in their Champions League victory over Feyenoord. Photo: Nigel Roddis/EPA
Manchester City 1 Feyenoord 0
Into every life a little rain must fall, and Manchester City were threatening to end their winning sequence at 16 with their first scoreless draw of the season until Raheem Sterling turned a humdrum evening into a celebration with a goal two minutes from time. A 17th successive win in all competitions means City have won their group with a match to spare, though in fact that was already the case when Sterling played a give-and-go with Ilkay Gündogan and raced through to beat Brad Jones with an angled shot.
Napoli’s three goals against Shakhtar Donetsk had confirmed City’s untouchability at the top of Group F by that point, and though this was far from one of their most memorable performances it could be excused on the grounds that key players such as David Silva and Fernandinho were rested. And that City kept plugging away right until the end to achieve a win that hardly matters. Pep Guardiola will have been pleased to see that, and so will the home fans.
Plenty of people maintain that David Silva remains the most indispensable Manchester City player, despite all the eye-catching talent brought in since his arrival, and a fairly flat opening to this game suggested they might have a point.
David Silva was left on the bench, Yaya Touré and Ilkay Gündogan came into midfield, and all of a sudden City were not carving great holes in the opposition defence. Gündogan and Touré lumbered about looking less than razor sharp, as might be expected, and though Kevin De Bruyne was on the pitch he looked a little tired, as if he too would have been glad of a rest.
City had already qualified from Group F so there was no real urgency to win this game , yet Guardiola again made the point in his programme notes that he would like to see his side become more clinical in front of goal. This was a game of significantly fewer chances than City have been creating of late, but sure enough they failed to accept any of their opportunities to take a first-half lead.
The opening half hour passed almost incident free, certainly in terms of goalmouth incident. Sergio Agüero found the by-line but put too much on his cross for Raheem Sterling to reach, then after a Nicolás Otamendi interception had caught Feyenoord a few men short at the back, Agüero steadied himself for a shot but sent it straight at Brad Jones.
Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, Guardiola had not opted to rest Ederson in favour of Claudio Bravo, and the Brazilian goalkeeper was nearly the unwanted centre of attention midway through the first half when he came out to clear with his feet and miscontrolled to give Jean-Paul Boëtius a sight of the ball.
Unflummoxed, Ederson simply used his feet again to dispossess Boëtius with a well-timed challenge. At first it looked like a foul as the Feyenoord striker tumbled to the floor, though the referee was correct in spotting that the goalkeeper had played the ball first.
Sam Larsson went close with a low shot shortly after that, though even while operating on economy-setting City still produced the best chances of the half. Gündogan shot wastefully high when trying to emulate De Bruyne’s super goal at Leicester at the weekend, Agüero headed uncharacteristically wide when perfectly picked out by De Bruyne’s cross, and most glaringly of all Bernardo Silva could only manage what amounted to a back pass to Jones when Sterling gave him a clear close-range opportunity.
The second half was not initially any more promising, Agüero contriving a volley from Danilo’s cross from the left, and though De Bruyne pounced greedily on the rebound his effort was even more spectacularly off target. City did seem to be attempting to raise the tempo a little, which was what the game needed, and Touré even put in a couple of 50-yard runs up the middle in an effort to get his team going.
In an illustration of how awry things were going for City De Bruyne received a booking that puts him out of the final group game by blatantly barging Steven Berghüis over just as Gundogan was moving in to make a legitimate tackle. Larsson put the free kick over Ederson’s bar but that was the signal for Guardiola to send on Gabriel Jesus, in the process awarding De Bruyne 30 minutes’ rest he probably needed.
Touré went close with a free kick as the game entered its final quarter, yet the invention City were missing was highlighted when Feyenoord created a great chance with skilful close passing. Tonny Vilhena and Larsson combined neatly to put Berghuis through on goal and he was only denied by a first-class reaction save from Ederson.
With 16 minutes remaining, just after some more insouciant footwork from Ederson and a shot on the turn from Agüero that flew wide, Guardiola brought on his 17-year-old prodigy Phil Foden for his first taste of senior football. He did not make a startling difference, though neither did he look out of place. He was probably wondering, like everyone else, whether this is the same City side he was been watching for the last few months. – Guardian service