Manchester City strolled to a comfortable 0-3 win over Japanese side Urawa Red Diamonds on Tuesday evening to advance into the final of the FIFA Club World Cup.
Despite some rocky results in the Premier League over recent weeks, the defending European champions grabbed a vital victory over the AFC Champions League Winners in their first ever FIFA Club World Cup game.
It was difficult to break through Urawa Reds’ defensive structure throughout most of the first half, and the decision to play Bernardo Silva instead of Phil Foden at false-nine led to some issues in the final third. However, City finally broke the deadlock on the 46th minute when Matheus Nunes’ cross was deflected into the back of the net for an own goal.
Urawa Red Diamonds were forced to come out and attack from that moment, and from there it largely signalled the beginning of the end for the underdogs in the tie. Mateo Kovacic doubled City’s lead in the 52nd minute when the Croatian timed his run well and got in behind the Urawa defence for a smart finish. The goal was set-up by an excellent pass from Kyle Walker.
Following Kovacic’s goal, it didn’t take long for the European champions to grab their third in the 59th minute. A fortunate deflection from a Bernardo Silva shot that left the goalkeeper out of position and dribbled into the net. The game was then thoroughly in Manchester City’s control until the final whistle.
Following a routine night’s work in Jeddah this week, securing Manchester City’s place in a showpiece final on Friday evening, here are five things we learned from a successful outing for the reigning Champions of Europe!
Rodri x Stones partnership key to Manchester City’s season
It was the first time since Bournemouth in early November that Rodri and John Stones found themselves together in a midfield partnership. Their pairing last season was vital to the treble and due to both fitness and disciplinary issues, they have barely spent any time together on the pitch so far.
Urawa Reds spent the vast majority of the first half with all 11 players tucked in deep to try and stifle any Manchester City attack, but Stones and Rodri were able to quickly recycle possession and helped unlock their defensive shape quite a few times in the first half.
If the two can stay healthy and away from the referee’s whistle for the next few months, it’s easy to see Manchester City finding their footing again.
Matheus Nunes continues to shine
While it wasn’t all perfect, Matheus Nunes once again had an excellent performance. There were a couple overcooked passes, and he did miss a few opportunities to find an open teammate, but the 25-year-old has been improving with each and every performance.
It was his ball carrying that was the reason for Manchester City breaking the deadlock, something he’s continued to show in his limited minutes and it won’t be long before the rest of the league is asking, “How did City only get him for that much?!”
The Bernardo Silva false-nine experiment did not work
Although Bernardo was successfully deployed as the false-nine at times during the 2020/21 season, it was a sluggish start. Bernardo dropping deep allowed Manchester City to move the ball at a rapid pace sat times, but there wasn’t much to show for it.
Only once Phil Foden switched back to the false-nine role he had mastered two years ago, were Manchester City able to break the deadlock and eventually secure their place in the final.
Nathan Ake stakes claim as Manchester City’s best defender
At this point it’s a race to the top for John Stones and Nathan Ake to see who is Manchester City’s top centre-back. John Stones’ ability to play in midfield gives him a slight edge, but Nathan Ake’s ability to stay fit and still deliver top performances despite limited playtime is an unique skill that makes him arguably the most dependable player in the squad.
It’s been a few years since Ake’s coming out party against Atletico Madrid and despite usually being Manchester City’s fourth choice defender, the 28-year-old has been a constant eight out of 10 in every match he’s played.
This trophy matters to Pep
A win on Friday against Fluminese would give Pep Guardiola his fourth FIFA Club World Cup title, breaking the record he currently shares with Carlo Ancelotti. Despite fixture congestion, injury issues, and falling further behind in the Premier League table, the Catalan coach still opted to field a strong side.
Now with just three days until the final against the South American champions, it’s easy to expect another full squad as the Blues push for their first ever Club World Cup.
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