After a difficult few weeks, a much changed Manchester City side outplayed Dinamo Zagreb.
In the cold Croatian evening air, Manchester City found some energy and guile to cement a result which may go some way to restoring confidence and belief.
This was a much changed Manchester City side – Claudio Bravo returned in goal, in front of a back four comprised of Joao Cancelo at right back, Benjamin Mendy at left back and a central partnership of Nicolas Otamendi and Eric Garcia.
Rodrigo kept his place in midfield alongside Ilkay Gundogan and Stockport’s finest Phil Foden. Up front saw Gabriel Jesus as expected, supported by Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez. However, for parts of the game there was so much movement and fluidity, rendering the initial starting positions as largely redundant.
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The game did not start as planned however, as City conceded a lofted shot from Dani Olmos. The strike was reminiscent of David Platt in Italia 90 as he struck the ball on the volley as it was played over his shoulder.
Quite how the goal happened takes a little effort to understand. A momentary lack of positional discipline left the ball unchallenged and somehow Bravo visibly shrank in the goal, allowing the ball past his outstretched arms.
It is a testament to City fans that these days there is hardly a reaction to going a goal behind. We almost expect it to happen before we are spurred into some semblance of life.
City probed and pressed, looking bright but most of the industry and guile was coming through Foden. It was Foden’s trickery which lead to the opening City goal, as he evaded tackles and set Mahrez free, who crossed for Jesus to nod in. Zagreb players protested that a player was down injured but that was nonsense, he was play acting and his failure to get involved contributed to the goal.
The only real notable other incident involved Rodri who was caught squarely in the face with a deliberate elbow which was conveniently missed by the referee and VAR.
City came out for the second half buzzing and romped quickly into the lead. So strong was the City performance for 20 minutes that Zagreb had no answers, and simply cowered, waiting for the storm to pass.
Jesus added his second in a sparkling move where he lookes, for the first time in a while, like a Brazilian striker. He jinked through defenders, leaving them on their arses and curled a shot past the helpless keeper.
His hat trick was completed with a good finish from a whipped low cross from Mendy, which he hit first time.
City changed tactics now and backed through the gears, keeping the ball and controlling the game. The intensity and enerygy was largely conserved and the last 30 minutes threatened to peter out with a whimper.
The icing on the cake though came from a lovely Foden goal, as the ball was played into him and he poked it home, setting City up for the draw on Monday.
This game was a useful tonic to any ailing City fans. 500 goals in total now under Pep Guardiola in 199 games. A goal and an assist for Foden who played 90 minutes.
A solid and confidence building outing for Garcia. Useful minutes for Zinchenko and Harwood-Bellis. And a return to the performances of old for Mendy, who reminded us that he may yet be a World Class left back again.
Arsenal loom on the horizon, but today is all about taking pleasure from a good job done well. There will be sterner tests to come in the Champions League, but we will face those with both Laporte and Sane. Things may well be looking up.