Manchester City got their defence of the UEFA Champions League off to a winning start against Red Star Belgrade, somehow only winning 3-1 in a blitzing display.
The reigning European champions started the match in typically dominant fashion, with early chances for full debutant Matheus Nunes and Phil Foden, albeit with an audacious bicycle kick, going begging.
Rodri had the Blues’ first clear opening of the evening, bursting into the penalty area and firing a strong shot which was beaten away by Red Star goalkeeper Omri Glazer, with the stopper well-placed to also deny Julian Alvarez a few minutes later – not for the first time, a team from Manchester were left frustrated by the efforts of Glazer.
The breakthrough almost arrived after 25 minutes; Phil Foden found space on the left by-line and clipped a delicious cross to the back post, but Erling Haaland’s header could only find the crossbar and spin away.
Another few headed efforts were again turned away by Glazer, with successive corners yielding no goals for Nathan Ake or Nunes.
Manchester City’s first-half profligacy was summed up with ten to go in the opening period, when Erling Haaland was unmarked in the box and latched onto Sergio Gomez’s cut-back, only to spoon his strike well over.
Gomez was the creative hub again soon after, whipping a cross onto Phil Foden’s head, but Glazer was again there to intervene.
After the bucketload of missed opportunities from Manchester City, there was only going to be one way to end the second half – Red Star Belgrade taking the lead.
Matheus Nunes lost out on a bouncing ball in midfield and, despite the offside flag initially ruling out Osman Bukari’s goal, VAR revealed that Ruben Dias’ trailing leg had played him on, meaning delirium in the away end and bemusement for the home fans.
That discontent in the stands wouldn’t last long; mere moments into the second half, a one-two between Haaland and Julian Alvarez got the latter in behind, and the Argentine rounded the goalkeeper and slotted in, proving just why he was labelled “almost undroppable” by Pep Guardiola at the weekend.
From there, Manchester City clearly smelled blood – Kyle Walker was unlucky to have a goal narrowly ruled out for offside, before Glazer again denied Haaland from close range.
If it had seemed as though Glazer was set to frustrate City all night long, those worries were soon put to bed, as Alvarez swung in a devilish free-kick which the goalkeeper completely misjudged and allowed in for a brace from the 23-year-old and the lead for the champions.
Just after the hour, Haaland and Glazer resumed acquaintances, the Red Star man once again thwarting the Norwegian by diverting his header onto the post.
Rodri famously offered up his services in an attacking sense whilst poking light fun at Haaland during the PFA Player of the Year awards recently, and the Spaniard showed his teammate how it was done with the third goal, easing into penalty area and placing an effortlessly accurate finish into the bottom corner to end the game as a contest.
More City chances came and went before the final whistle, leaving the home fans almost in disbelief that they hadn’t scored more, but it was a highly creative performance nonetheless and one which sealed their first three points of the Champions League group this season.
Ederson – 6.5
Had little to do outside of picking the ball out of his own net. His best contribution was inspiring a trademark Guardiola frown after some sweeping shenanigans.
Kyle Walker – 7
Only narrowly denied a goal by VAR, which would have topped another solid evening locking down the right flank.
Ruben Dias – 6.5
Had an accomplished opening to the night, helping City maintain control. Didn’t hold his line well enough to prevent the Red Star goal and was a little shakier thereafter.
Nathan Ake – 7.5
Often left as one of just two defenders for City, won the majority of his duels and showed drive in possession.
Sergio Gomez – 7
Was a major outlet in the first half and was unlucky not to claim an assist or two, before slowing down a little in the second period and being withdrawn.
Rodri – 8.5
Continued his outrageous form with another display of total midfield mastery, complete with a sublime goal.
Matheus Nunes – 7.5
Was very tidy in small spaces, both in his passing and dribbling. Only small complaint could perhaps be that he didn’t score.
Bernardo Silva – 7
Picked up good areas of space on the right, but his adventurousness was clearly limited by a slight knock which forced him off late in the second half.
Phil Foden – 7.5
Operated in the pockets in attacking midfield shrewdly, and will claim an assist on Rodri’s goal.
Julian Alvarez – 9.5 (MOTM)
Bustled around with his usual impeccable work-rate, adding to it with the two goals which won it for his side.
Erling Haaland – 5
Not yet anything to seriously worry about, but Haaland ought to have about doubled his goal tally for the season in his last two matches.
Jeremy Doku – 8
Gave a whole different dimension to all phases of City’s play when he came on, terrorising the Red Star defence with his tricks.
Manuel Akanji – 6.5
Well-placed for the little defending he had to do.
Rico Lewis – N/A
Kalvin Phillips – N/A
Oscar Bobb – N/A
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