City and TSG Hoffenheim produced an end-to-end almost exhibition at the Etihad Stadium to sign off the group stages of the Champions League for another season. City needing only a draw to secure top spot. For their part, Hoffenheim would have qualified for the Europa League had they managed a victory.
Pep Guardiola rang a few changes after telling us that he barely had 15 fit footballers and his starting line-up was to include youngster Phil Foden fresh from signing a new 6-year deal, negated by some overweight Stretford scribe as 6 more years on the bench. Not on this showing Mr C.
From minute one this was destined to be a festival of open attacking football. City clicked into their gear early, but the Germans were in no mood to roly-poly, using the power of the big men to have a go at City, especially the impressive Kramaric.
Early on it was the new version of “typical City”. Chances came and went until the quarter-hour mark when Laporte clumsily hauled down Hubner. Thankfully the “new” ref didn’t see this as anything other than a foul and although Kramaric drilled it in from the spot, Laporte was fortunate not to be taking a shower.
This forced City’s hand and in the next fifteen minutes de Jesus and Otamendi hit the woodwork and Baumann made an extraordinary save from a Stones header. Set pieces were looking to be the order of the day for City so it was not quite a surprise when on the stroke of half-time Leroy Sane stood up to curl a beauty around and past Baumann. It was as good a free kick as you are likely to see any place any time.
Walker for some reason replaced Stones at the half and continued in his vein of nightmare defending while trying to add something to the attack.
From a tackle down his flank, probably the most astonishing passage of football never to result in a goal took place. Sterling stole the ball just outside the box and was off unopposed to the other end of the field. Apace with him were Sane and Bernardo as City attacked three on none. Sterling drew the keeper enough to open the door for Sane who rather than slide it home passed to Bernardo who wasn’t expecting it and the chance disappeared. How?
City stepped on the gas. Foden, impressive in midfield created a couple of chances one of which was a screaming volley destined for the net until Baumann made a fantastic save, just as Ederson had a few minutes earlier.
On the hour a sweeping City long distance one-two saw an exchange between Sterling and Sane who side-stepped Baumann and made no mistake this time.
That concluded the scoring but it could have been 6-1 or 4-4, you choose.
Well done to Phil Foden. A very creditable performance by the teenager. He looked as though he fitted in naturally and with more game time will not weaken the team. Our thoughts have to go out to de Jesus whose smart header struck a post and whose clever play all evening went unrewarded. In the continued absence of Sergigol, he will get back on the goal trail. There were signs tonight.
The draw is on Monday and I figure City can draw Atletico de Madrid, FC Schalke 04, Ajax Amsterdam or AS Roma. Will the fans be singing “Edin Dzeko”?