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Manchester City 2-0 Dinamo Zagreb: Sterling breaks stubborn resistance of visitors as Blues claim top spot in Group C in the Champions League

There was little of that kind last night until Raheem Sterling’s goal, ten minutes after arriving as a substitute, took his goal tally to 41 in 12 months.

It is a measure of the tournament’s weakness that Dinamo Zagreb, who have won the Croatian league in 13 of the last 14 seasons have totalled four points in Champions League group games. They appear, generally lose, generally accept it, happily take the money, and hopefully find a buyer for any young players they might have on show. There were certainly none of those last night.

If that were not enough measure of the competitive imbalance, City were able to replace Kyle Walker and Oleksandr Zinchenko, full backs in the unconvincing defensive display at Everton last Saturday with Joao Cancelo and Benjamin Mendy – the world’s two most expensive full backs. It was at least a good test for Cancelo, booked for a rash first half challenge on Dani Olmo and removed early.

The only Croatian contribution of the remotest significance came from the South Stand, where behind the banner proclaiming ‘Purgeri’ – the nickname for citizens of Zagreb – the visiting team’s supporters revealed how it feels when there is a purpose and significance about following your team’s group stage games in this tournament.

City’s fans briefly gave something back to the partisan Croatians and their relentless drummer, though it was a half-hearted response at best. Even the ritual booing of the UEFA anthem lacked much conviction.

City could have been five up by the interval against a side who actually aided their efforts, with an early kamikaze pass back through their own ranks for Sergio Aguero, who buzzed around the front with relentless menace.

City also thought they should have had a penalty when Dinamo’s giant centre half Dino Peric seemed to stand on Aguero’s foot in the area, though unfathomably VAR ruled against it. A good save then prevented Mahrez from converting a Sterling pass to double the deficit. But Foden, on for David Silva, did wrap things up, racing ahead with Sterling on the counter-attack to take his teammate’s pass and drive a well-struck shot to the goalkeeper’s right.

Minor irritations for a City team now facing a double header against the extremely modest Italian side Atalanta, who last night lost to the Shaktar Donetsk City breezed past in Kharkiv two weeks ago. Early qualification beckons and, if nothing else, the chance for Guardiola to blood his young players.

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