Date: 28th September 2017 at 9:01pm
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Against a tidal wave of goals with which City have inundated their opponents in recent weeks, it was maybe with some trepidation that Shakhtar Donetsk rolled themselves out at the Etihad.

Nothing like it I’m afraid!

City paraded probably a best eleven, given that it looks as though Mendy looks certain to have had his season curtailed by his “Gascoigne” moment last Saturday. There was no need at all for him to get involved in a foul tackle on half way against Palace when a good old-fashioned barge would have done the trick.

So, with Ederson guarding the pipes, a pretty much regular back four of Walker, Stones, Otamendi and Delph, protected by the indefatigable Fernandinho. Silva, Sane and De Bruyne ahead of him and de Jesus and Aguero up top, City looked fired up to write the records. Never have they won their first two Champions League matches and Super Sergio only one goal away from equalling Eric Brook’s record which has stood proud for 40 years.

The Ukrainians however had different ideas. Their brand of tidy, hustling and bustling football could have easily turned the evening into a disaster. They are actually their nation’s Champions, seasoned campaigners in the Champions League and are certainly no mugs. The fact that the best two saves in the first half belonged to Ederson bears great testimony to the work ethic of this unfancied side who had already beaten group favourites Napoli on match day one.

For the first time this season, City actually played in a recognisable formation. Gone was the risky two-at-the-back with all hell breaking loose in front of it. Instead we received a measured, more sure-footed kind of performance, maybe one we prefer not to like, but nevertheless one that produced the result Pep Guardiola was looking for.

Apart from the scares that brought two excellent saves from Ederson and an absolutely fantastic last-ditch clean tackle from Fernandinho, City looked to be in control of this test, although it took them a long time to establish superiority.

Throughout the first half chances came and went and the killer instinct of recent weeks appeared to have deserted City. Sane, De Bruyne and Aguero were all guilty of failing to take their gifts and the frustration of de Jesus and Aguero getting caught offside was becoming a proverbial pain.

Sane was also guilty of some poor decision-making taking on too many men at times and shooting at goal when others were better positioned. It had to get better in the second half didn’t it?

Well, yes it did. While the hospitality people were finishing their half-time refreshments, City built up down the left with Sane, Silva gave a couple of defenders the slip and played in De Bruyne, lurking twenty yards out and his sweet curling right-footed shot found the postage stamp and City were at last a goal to the good.

Would the Ukrainians crumble like all before them this season? Well, no they wouldn’t. They continued to be a threat and there was no doubt that City would need a second goal to give themselves some breathing space. Marlos was a handful, but Delph stood up to most of his work, – all Shakhtar lacked was the cutting edge they paraded against Napoli. Stones and Otamendi stood firm and with Walker starting deeper, what City lost in attack, they gained in defence.

On 68 minutes De Bruyne opened Donetsk up down the right and his ball into the six yard area was a gift for the newly-introduced Sterling, but unlike in recent weeks, he failed to make the right contact and scooped the ball wide.

Two minutes later the stage was set for the Mighty Atom to become all-time City joint top scorer. Sane flew into the box and accepted a poor tackle giving the referee little option but to point to the spot. As I said, City needed a second goal and Aguero needed one to equal Eric Brook’s record. Was it the correct combination? We will recall that, after a series of serious misses from the spot last season, Aguero was removed as penalty taker in favour of Yaya Toure, who simply never misses. Surely Sergio would take this one and accept the adulation.

Yes, he took it, but it was one of the worst penalties I’ve seen taken by a top striker. Pyatov set himself up to dive left, Aguero bought it, but Pyatov dived right and found the ball at the right height and nowhere near the corner. The groans rang around the Etihad, especially as the fans really wanted Aguero to equal the record.

This lifted the Ukrainians a little and they pushed on in search of an equaliser. City made a couple of changes with Gundogan and Bernardo coming on as they too went in search of a second goal.

It finally arrived more or less as the stadium had settled for a 1-0 win. This time it a was a rapid raid down the right controlled by Bernardo Silva. Sane made the dummy run splitting up the defenders and Bernardo’s well timed and well-paced ball met Sterling’s late run and he couldn’t, and this time didn’t miss.

The scoreline could have favoured City more, but it could easily have included two goals for Shakhtar. I think the Blues will be happy with this one and now look well set to qualify for the knock-out stages.

It was a more solid and compact performance by City but it was also another clean sheet. Fernandinho was brilliant but we must also mention Delph playing in an unfamiliar position and playing exceptionally well against a tough opponent.

Next up is the big one against Chelsea. I’m sure that Conte’s horrible people are sharpening their studs ready to give City a right kicking…..

 

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