Manchester City cruised to a commanding win over Club Brugge in the Champions League as Pep Guardiola’s side picked up a valuable three points in Group A.
In a one-sided contest in Belgium, Phil Foden unlocked the Brugge defence with a flighted ball towards Joao Cancelo, who controlled and finished under former Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Riyad Mahrez was then fouled in the box and converted the penalty shortly before half time to give Guardiola's side the lead their general play and dominance had deserved.
Kyle Walker added a third following a slick City move before Cole Palmer scored off the bench for his first Champions League goal. Hans Vanakan pulled one back for the hosts late on before Mahrez scored his second on the breakaway.
Here are five things we learned.
Postionless Phil Foden steals the show
Saying that Phil Foden played as a false nine in City’s win over Brugge would be, well, false. The City star was everywhere in the 5-1 win, constantly drifting cross the front line and dropping into midfield positions, where his passing range and ability caught the eye once again.
The 21-year-old has played in central midfield recently for both club and country and although the line-up graphics showed that he had been positioned at the tip of City’s attack, there where several occasions where you could have looked up and thought he had been fielded there once again.
Foden had split Brugge’s defence open twice before he flighted the pass into Cancelo’s path for City’s opening goal, in what will go down as one of the finest assists in the Champions League this season. He had effectively taken up a central midfield position to create the goal after drifting into a pocket of space, but of course there were other instances where his movement along the front line dragged Brugge defenders out of position and created gaps in wide and central areas.
While his assist for Cancelo will be remembered, another driven pass to the full-back earlier in the half was arguably even better on the eye, and almost led to another City goal. Foden also threatened with his speed and runs behind the defence and although he seems to impress wherever he plays, the 21-year-old was comfortably City’s best player against Brugge and looks to be Guardiola’s preferred option for the number nine slot - even if he offers much more than that.
City pass awkward test with ease
After defying the odds by picking up four points in their opening two matches against Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig, Club Brugge were once again reduced to their true underdog status thanks to the dominance of City’s performance in Belgium.
The Pro League champions had impressed in both of their opening two games but City seemed to be prepared for the challenge and were simply on another level at the Jan Breydel Stadium. City’s passing ensured that Brugge barely got a kick and the Premier League champions were ruthless in winning it back whenever their moves broke down.
Some of the moves from Guardiola’s side were particularly impressive and there was a fluidity to their play that was reminiscent of some of their best ever performances under the manager. Although Foden was the star, Grealish, Cancelo and Bernardo created effective combinations on the left, while De Bruyne was also a constant threat on the right channel.
Of course, City’s resources vastly out-weight that of Brugge, but the same could also be said of PSG and they struggled to break them down last month. That is a credit to City’s gameplan and mentality. Although there were a few nervy moments where City passes up some early chances and had a couple of goals ruled out, their win was never in doubt once they went a goal up.
Furthermore, the fact that Guardiola could rest Foden, De Bruyne and Laporte once the game was wrapped up, as well as giving minutes to the returning Ilkay Gundogan and academy product Cole Palmer, adds to a satisfying night for City.
Cancelo and Walker highlight City’s attacking confidence
Manchester City’s full backs were central to their big win over Brugge and the form of both Cancelo and Walker has come at a good time for Guardiola.
Cancelo has started City’s last six games at left back and has gone from strength to strength in that time. The Portugal international was a key outlet for City against Brugge and his overlapping runs created space for Grealish to cut inside, while his own attacking quality was seen through his sumptuous touch and finish for City’s opening goal.
On the other side, Walker is often more measured with timing his runs, but he was dangerous whenever he ventured forward around the outside. Having both full backs flying in terms of confidence and attacking output adds another dimension to City’s attack which will help them break down stubborn opponents.
Cole Palmer adds to exciting City future
Cole Palmer produced his most memorable moment of his young City career so far as the academy star scored within three minutes of coming off the bench against Brugge.
The 19-year-old looked an assured and stylish presence in midfield following his introduction in the second half and produced a composed finish with the inside of his foot when the ball broke to him in the box.
While his well-taken goal was the highlight, another impressive moment was when he glided inside before playing a reverse pass to the overlapping Walker, which almost led to City’s fifth.
It’s encouraging for his development that Guardiola trusted him to come into a Champions League away game and judging by how comfortable he looked alongside Fernandinho and Gundogan in the final 20 minutes, it won’t be the last we see of him this season.
Sterling’s frustrations continue for City
Raheem Sterling had a couple of chances to get on the scoresheet following his introduction from the bench but the England star did not look confident in front of goal.
Sterling will have been frustrated that he found himself on the bench once again and desperate to add to his goal tally for the season in his bid to catch Guardiola’s eye.
But on both occasions the ball broke to Sterling in the box, the forward was unable to supply the finishing touch. An initial effort was thrashed into the side netting with his left foot before he couldn’t get enough contact on a square ball across the box as he attempted to chip Mignolet. A further one-on-one with his former Liverpool team-mate also ended in Sterling being denied his second goal of the campaign.
Given his position in Guardiola’s plans, every chance counts for Sterling at the moment - and he will have been disappointed to not add to City’s lead.
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