Manchester City began their defence of their UEFA Champions League crown with a comeback victory against Red Star Belgrade on Tuesday night.
Cries of ‘Champions of Europe, we know what we are’ rallied around the Etihad Stadium for Manchester City’s first Champions League fixture since they won the competition back in June courtesy of a 1-0 win over Inter in Istanbul.
Club legend Mike Summerbee brought out the famous old trophy to parade it in front of the fans who gave both him and the silverware a rapturous applause.
Three months on from Istanbul and the balmy heights of the the Atatürk Olympic Stadium and Pep Guardiola’s men were still playing at their very rampant best for the visit of Red Star. City dominated the early stages of the game with Phil Foden seeing several opportunities fall to him including an ambitious overhead kick.
Erling Haaland then leapt up and powered in a header from a brilliant Foden cross but the striker’s attempt struck the Red Star crossbar. It was then Nathan Ake’s chance to try and open the scoring with a header but his attempt following a City corner was magnificently saved by Omri Glazer in goal.
The scintillating Jérémy Doku was brought on for Bernardo Silva towards the end of the first-half, with the Portugal international suffering with an injury. Osman Bukari then handed Red Star a shock lead prior to the break after a VAR check awarded the goal which had been coolly converted past Ederson in a one-on-one.
Just moments after the second half resumed, Manchester City found their equaliser through Julian Alvarez’s deft footwork levelled the scores following Erling Haaland’s through ball. Captain Kyle Walker thought he had given his side the lead for the first time on the night with a tidy finish, but a VAR check soon found him offside.
Yet the home side did eventually go in front though as Julian Alvarez’s free kick sailed past all in the box, including goalkeeper Glazer, to nestle in the net much to the home fans’ delight. Manchester City’s third goal came from a familiar face in the Champions League as Rodri, the man who scored the winner in Istanbul, once again scored in the competition.
The Spaniard danced past Red Star’s backline after receiving the ball from Phil Foden and smoothly converted to cement City’s lead. Pep Guardiola’s men closed out the win and ensured their European campaign got off to a greats start.
Here are five things we learned from Manchester City’s Champions League opener versus Red Star Belgrade under the lights at the Etihad Stadium.
Julian Alvarez is him
Despite playing a large part in winning Argentina the World Cup mid-season last campaign, Julian Alvarez found it difficult to cement a starting position in Manchester City’s team.
The attacker has also had to contest with fellow forward and the largely unstoppable Erling Haaland, who was in formidable form last season, keeping the Argentine out of the starting XI.
Alvarez was presented with a chance to become a regular starter earlier this season following Kevin De Bruyne’s hamstring injury versus Burnley in the Premier League opener, as well as the Belgian’s subsequent surgery that is likely to keep him out until early 2024.
Julian Alvarez has started the season magnificently and has worked well with Erling Haaland to jointly get Manchester City the all-important goals. Tuesday night was no different with two crucial goals from the forward ensuring City’s blushes were spared after his side surprisingly went behind in the first half.
Fort Etihad stands strong
Manchester City’s impressive home form in Europe is underway once again after the victory over Red Star Belgrade. The Blues maintained their unbeaten record on the night which has been running for five years, with their last Champions League defeat at home coming in September of 2018.
Since that match against Lyon, Manchester City have now gone a total of 27 games at the Etihad Stadium without defeat, seeing their solid form guide them to three straight semi-finals and two finals.
It was important to keep the record rolling on Tuesday night to make sure the Citizens started the European campaign in the same style they have shown in recent seasons.
Retaining the UCL will be no stroll in the park
Leading up to the game, not many gave Red Star Belgrade a chance, with the Serbian team coming up against the European champions away. Yet, in typical Champions League fashion and despite Manchester City have a plethora of chances, the away side found themselves in front at half time having only had one shot on target.
Pep Guardiola’s side had to rally together and improve their finishing to turn the game around and, although they did in the end, it was no stroll in the park. Manchester City will undoubtedly face harder challenges than the Serbian side throughout the campaign so must always be at their best if they are to retain the Champions League title.
Academy shining amongst the stars
In a Champions League tournament packed with stars all over Europe, it was particularly refreshing to see so many of Manchester City’s academy graduates get minutes.
Phil Foden of course is no stranger to dazzling crowds by now and the England international midfielder looked sharp again on Tuesday night, testing the Crvena zvezda keeper before assisting Rodri.
Pep Guardiola also brought on more recent academy graduates in Rico Lewis and Oscar Bobb to close out the win in the final ten minutes, showing a clear path from the academy to the first team for youngsters at the club.
This rang all the more true considering it was the latter’s European debut after impressing for Manchester City’s academy teams in recent years.
“Champions of Europe, we know what we are”
This was Manchester City’s first game in the Champions League since becoming European champions, but in true modest Manchester City fashion, not much had changed in the stands.
A few rallying rounds of ‘Champions of Europe, we know what we are’ playfully teased at all of the club’s naysayers from the past decade’s quest for the UEFA Champions League title.
Yet, there was no change to regular proceedings when UEFA’s iconic tournament anthem was played which received its normal reception of booing in Manchester.
Just because Manchester City have now won the elusive trophy, it does not mean that the sky blue faithful have forgiven UEFA for their treatment of the club over the years.
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