Raheem Sterling’s introduction works a treat for Manchester City
England forward scores and one and sets up Phil Foden for the second against Dinamo Zagreb
Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring during the Champions League match against Dinamo Zagreb at the Etihad Stadium. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA Wire.
Manchester City 2 Dinamo Zagreb 0
Pep Guardiola’s clever introduction of Raheem Sterling after the break transformed this second group-stage match for Manchester City. Until then Dinamo Zagreb had stymied England’s champions, yet 10 minutes after entering Sterling had a 10th goal in 12 appearances and City were cruising to a second victory with Group C in their control.
Guardiola made five changes from Saturday’s win at Everton. Kevin De Bruyne’s was omitted due to a groin problem as Bernardo and David Silva, Benjamin Mendy, João Cancelo and Sergio Agüero all came in. Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Kyle Walker were the others to drop out.
Zagreb had won their previous match 4-0 on Friday and they arrived in Manchester hoping to end a dismal streak of 12 consecutive losses in Champions League away group games.
Guardiola’s wish that City fans be “seduced” by the competition was not answered during the pre-game anthem, which was booed as has become custom at the Etihad, and the contest was stopped almost instantly following kick-off when Rodri fell awkwardly.
This may have affected City’s rhythm because, by their lofty standards, they were slow to settle, with one needlessly loose pass from Agüero indicative of the wider problem.
What Guardiola’s men should not be given, of course, is an easy in. Yet they almost got one 13 minutes in when Nikola Mora allowed Agüero to race at Dominik Livakovic – though when trying to round the goalkeeper the City No 10 allowed him time to get down and smother the shot. The ball eventually came to Bernardo Silva but he blasted over and the Portuguese was to do the same a few moments later.
City were beginning to ease into high gear. When Mendy pinged a ball hard at Agüero inside the area the control was as instantaneous as the turn and he was unlucky not to score.
Guardiola had again plumped for the centre back pairing of Fernandinho and Nicolás Otamendi but neither they nor the rest of the defence could stop Dino Peric rising to head at Ederson’s goal from a free-kick but the effort went too high. In what had become a bright contest City’s riposte came first via Ilkay Gündogan, who hit the bar, then David Silva, who scuffed a shot wide to Livakovic’s left.
Action in the visitors’ area was served up on a near-permanent loop until half-time, Agüero repeatedly receiving the ball and looking to fire a shot off or find Riyad Mahrez.
What kept the score level was a dogged Dinamo rearguard and the referee’s refusal to award a penalty when Kevin Théophile-Catherine seemed to handball near goal. The latter incident was surely an example of what VAR is supposed to clear up but Nenad Bjelica’s team were allowed to escape.
Seconds later, David Silva also thought he had a decent penalty shout but Serdar Gözübüyük was again not interested in awarding the kick.
By the interval, City had somehow failed to breach Livakovic’s goal though Guardiola’s instructions may have been to simply keep on keeping on, given his team’s dominance.
What the manager will not have suggested was for Rodri to begin the second half by giving the ball up for Bruno Petkovic to run clear towards Ederson. But as his team-mates waited to be played in the Zagreb No 9 dawdled and the danger fizzled out.
Zagreb now then committed their own howler, a mix-up between Peric and Livakovic letting the ball spill to Agüero, who could not quite capitalise as the angle tightened. Next, a slick City corner ended with Gündogan chipping the ball to the back post towards a lurking Agüero before Livakovic cleared with a punch.
Ten minutes into the second period Guardiola had seen enough, and he took off the muted Bernardo Silva for Sterling in an attempt to find the killer touch thus far absent.
Sterling’s opening contribution was to force a corner but an opening goal continues to prove elusive. City were camped in the final third but frustration grew as the yellow wall put up by Croatia’s champions remained firm.
That was until, at last, the hosts did break through and it was Sterling who hammered home a precise Mahrez cross and Guardiola celebrated with gusto alongside the home supporters.
Guardiola’s decision to bring on Sterling had gained City the ascendancy they deserved. What they did not receive was a penalty when Petar Stojanovic took Sterling down – but the decision looked correct, Stojanovic connecting with ball first.
It did however spark a Guardiola tantrum and the Catalan was booked much to his chagrin. This, though, was a satisfying evening for him and his side – capped when Sterling broke clear to set up Phil Foden, the midfielder slotting coolly home in the final moments.