Manchester City cruised past Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia to end their UEFA Champions League group stage on an emphatic note. Gabriel Jesus’ hat-trick was followed up by a late Phil Foden strike to raise City spirits after a tough weekend.
Here’s what we learned from a great European night…
The Missing Piece of the Jigsaw
Phil Foden, ladies and gentlemen. He should start at the weekend, not because it’s good experience for him, but because that’s what’s best for the team. We look a far better team with Foden than without at the moment, and it’s not hard to see why. He ran the show tonight for the same reasons.
Against Zagreb, his performance in midfield drove the team forward. He’s got a rare sense of bravery that means that when he sees a defence, others would go backwards or across – he opts to head straight through the middle. Foden is about direct play, relentless energy and courage, combined with technical quality that few English players can match. He is, and I hate to say, a perfect Jürgen Klopp player. We’re infinitely lucky that it’s Pep, not Klopp, who has Foden at his disposal. He must not go to waste.
Away… in a Manger
Come on, it’s almost Christmas and we own a player called Jesus who’s great away from home. I have to use that subheading. Gabriel put in another top performance on the road tonight, grabbing a deserved hat-trick with a trio of clean, clever finishes. Jesus’ second goal caught the eye more than any other, a smart feint to escape the defender before curling a low shot past the goalkeeper.
This game saw Jesus claim his second Champions League hat-trick, more than was managed by Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Romario, Ronaldinho or Kaka – and he’s still only 22 years old. What we need now, is for Jesus to build off of this confidence and start scoring on a more consistent basis in home matches. He can’t afford to keep struggling at the Etihad.
Coming From Behind
This match was the fourth time this season in which City have conceded the first goal and gone on to win. For context, we’ve conceded first just seven times – a win percentage of 57% when the opposition strike the first blow. It’s an impressive statistic that speaks volumes about the team’s mental strength and ability to bounce back.
This harks back to the 2017/18 season, when City came back from behind to beat West Ham, Huddersfield, Bournemouth, Burnley, Bristol City and Napoli – a 64% win rate in matches where we went behind initially. It’s good to see that characteristic returning as we navigate this poor patch of defensive form.
Group Domination Yet Again
Tonight’s win means that City have won 15 of their 24 European group matches under Pep Guardiola, a success rate of 62.5%. They’ve only failed to top their group once since the Catalan arrived – in his first season, when the club was pipped to the post by Barcelona.
In fact, other than Barca, only Shakhtar Donetsk (in a dead rubber) and Lyon (in Mikel Arteta’s unideal debut) have beaten City at this stage of the competition over the last four years. This suggests that – albeit against some weaker teams – this team has the potential to succeed in continental competition. We just need to recreate that form when it really counts.
Jesus and Foden lit up the stage tonight, but my personal highlight was seeing Oleksander Zinchenko’s brief stint as a number nine. It was the kind of thing I didn’t realise I needed until it was taken away from me, and I was left desperately hoping for another chance to watch the Ukranian leading the line. Even though he didn’t manage to score, it was pleasing to watch Zinchenko back on the pitch after an injury that had a much bigger impact on the team than many expected or realised.
On the subject of left-backs, the second half tonight was much better for Benjamin Mendy, who claimed his first assist in who-knows-how-long to set up Jesus’ hat-trick. When you put his encouraging display together with Zinchenko’s experimental excursion, this is the most optimistic I’ve felt about our problem position for a long time.
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