After a poor performance on Saturday at Carrow Road, Manchester City got back on track with a convincing 3-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk in their first European fixture of the season. Pep Guardiola should be mostly satisfied with his team’s performance leaving Ukraine with the clean sheet and all three points, although his side could have been a bit more clinical in front of goal.
Following the defeat to Norwich at the weekend, changes were expected for the starting XI that would face Shakhtar. As a result, it likely surprised few when De Bruyne, Mahrez, and Jesus were all given the start after having to settle for an appearance off the bench versus the Canaries. Ultimately, the changes paid off for Pep as all three were involved in at least one the Cityzens goals on the night.
Here are five things we learned in City’s comfortable victory over Shakhtar at Metalist Stadium to open their 2019-20 Champions League campaign…
Rodri dominant in midfield
82 passes attempted, 82 passes completed. Four successful dribbles, four tackles, and a Fernandinho-esque foul to prevent a Shakhtar fast break. What a performance from the young Spaniard who was brought in during the summer as the heir to the Fernandinho throne, which has been vital for City during the Guardiola era.
While it might be early in his Cityzens career, Rodri appears to be capable of providing everything the Brazilian has provided Pep in recent years and then some. His ability to recognize when his side is in trouble and when a foul might be necessary appears equal to that of the now makeshift centre-back Fernandinho. What might separate him from the former Shakhtar man is his ability to pass the ball, as was evident in his literal perfect passing performance Wednesday night.
Riyad Mahrez makes most of more minutes
Behind Rodri, Mahrez was probably City’s best player on the pitch, scoring the opening goal and setting up Ilkay Gundogan for another. The Algerian winger was a constant threat cutting in on his left foot providing plenty of problems for the Shakhtar backline all night. While his goal was somewhat of a sitter, he was rightfully rewarded for a strong performance overall.
In 2018-19, Bernardo Silva was arguably the club’s player of the season. As a result, most would have had him sliding into the starting right wing spot for City for the 2019-20 campaign as the addition of Rodri and a healthy De Bruyne forced the Portuguese international out wide. Instead, Mahrez started on opening day against West Ham and has had as many starts as Bernardo so far this season. Given the former Leicester City star’s form and performances such as the one displayed against Shakhtar, its hard to argue with Guardiola’s decisions to date.
Fernandinho comfortable at CB
We’ll call this a tidy performance for Fernandinho as he started at centre-back for the first time in a City shirt. The backline was not exactly put under pressure as Shakhtar managed just the lone shot on target and failed to win a single corner in the match. Fernandinho was solid when necessary making several smart steps leading to turnovers as well as regularly providing cover for a rather adventurous Ederson in the City goal.
As Guardiola has previously stated, Fernandinho is a midfielder and not a defender. Although this might be true, it doesn’t mean the Brazilian can’t use the skills that make him a great holding midfielder to help do a job for his manager at the back. With Stones and Laporte both out for another month, expect to see more of the 34-year-old at centre-back for City in the near future.
Mendy-Cancelo combo make City a more dynamic side
Match fitness is still a concern for both City fullbacks Benjamin Mendy and João Cancelo. As a result, the pair was only on the pitch together for roughly 10 minutes. Despite the short amount of time, you could immediately see how the injection of the two wide players changed the way the side was set up. By providing constant width and a willingness to get up the pitch, Mendy and Cancelo give Sterling and Mahrez/Bernardo the chance to drift inside and become more involved inside the box.
In fairness, Walker likely gives Guardiola a bit more stability defensively than either of the two offensively gifted fullbacks. Despite this, with the amount that City is challenged at the back, the crossing ability of Mendy and Cancelo could prove to be more important to Pep than fullbacks that rarely get quality balls into the opposing box.
The sky is not falling – City are still the same team we know and love
Rodri looks right at home, Kevin De Bruyne is still getting assists in his sleep and City just won 3-0 with Laporte, Stones, Sane, and Foden all unavailable through illness and injury. Furthermore, not having a spot in the starting XI for David Silva, Aguero or Bernardo is a good problem to have for Guardiola and co.
Although things might not be perfect around the Etihad at the moment, the squad remains as strong as any within Europe’s major leagues. As long as the side can find a way to fill the void left by injuries at the back, there is still the potential for piles of hardware in 2019-20.
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