Manchester City blinded the night with possibility, arguably their finest performance of the season on Kevin De Bruyne’s first outing for two months. That does not feel hugely coincidental.
City won the game in vintage fashion, registering a shot every three minutes before half-time and with the points sealed quickly, owing to their sheer relentlessness against a Shakhtar Donetsk team who ended their long unbeaten run here last December.
De Bruyne is feeling his way back in after knee ligament trouble but his inclusion, that aura in midfield, enhanced those around him. David Silva ran the game and scored the opening goal as Guardiola took them to the top of Group F. He and his staff looked exceptionally calm in the mouth of the tunnel afterwards. A commanding win completed so thrillingly
Our first half was incredible – the best first half we’ve played over the last three seasons,’ Guardiola said. ‘We were under pressure after Lyon. We can control our destiny now.
Shakhtar Donetsk (4-4-2): Pyatov 6; Matviyenko 6, Kryvtsov 6, Rakitsky 6, Ismaily 6.5; Wellington 6.5 (Bolbat 69, 6), Stepaneko 6.5, Maycon 6.5, Fernando 7 (Dentinho 84); Kovalenko 6.5 (Alan 62, 6), Moraes 6
Subs not used: Shevchenko, Butko, Khocholava, Kayode
Manager: Paulo Fonseca 6
Man City (4-3-3): Ederson 7; Stones 7 (Walker 80), Otamendi 6.5, Laporte 7.5, Mendy 7; Fernandinho 7.5, De Bruyne 7 (B Silva 69, 7), D Silva 8.5; Mahrez 7, Jesus 7 (Foden 87), Sterling 7.5
Subs not used: Muric, Kompany, Aguero, Sane
Manager: Pep Guardiola 7
Referee: Carlos Del Cerro (ESP) 6.
‘We created a lot and missed a lot of clear, clear chances. You have to be more clinical. You don’t get this many at the top level. Today is a time to be so happy that we played with that personality. It’s an incredible, amazing result.’
As Guardiola said, the only blot was their finishing, because this really could have ended up as anything. It was fairly astonishing quite how many times that ruthless streak deserted their fine array of attackers. Imagine if they were truly dead-eyed inside the box. The woodwork was struck on three occasions.
City are still improving, still clicking into gear, and the shock defeat by Lyon feels like a blip rather than anything endemic in the Champions League.
There is somewhat of an ongoing complex surrounding the competition though. Guardiola has been at pains to repeatedly point out that City are simply not ready to lift it and even claimed that – to his mind – not everybody around the club is pulling in the same direction in Europe. The fans, 825 of whom were in Ukraine last night, were heavily implicated in that given their rocky relationship with UEFA.
All the conjecture should be insignificant to a group of players who might even be slicker than they were last season, as hard as that is to believe. There defending is rugged too and Guardiola revealed he cannot see a more complete left-sided central defender than Aymeric Laporte, who netted his second of the season.