Strange game, football. Manchester City only scored once when they were pummelling Olympiacos and scored twice when the unfancied Greeks should have forced a shock draw. Work that one out.
Pep Guardiola will probably not bother agonising and analysing too much, City now only requiring a draw over in Piraeus later this month to breeze into the knockout stages.
It looks like a doddle on paper, of course, but they have had to grind out two home results– first against a feisty Porto and then an Olympiacos team who rued Mathieu Valbuena’s glaring late miss when this was 1-0. Maybe that grit and perseverance will end up being crucial in the long term. Another clean sheet, too.
Ferran Torres got Manchester City off to a great start, scoring early after capping off an excellent passing move
Gabriel Jesus got back on track after returning from injury, scoring an excellent goal from an acute angle with 10 minutes left
Joao Cancelo then got on the score sheet right at the death, making it 3-0 on what was a fairly simple night for Man City
Man City: Ederson, Walker (Cancelo 82), Stones, Ake, Zinchenko, De Bruyne (Nmecha 85), Gundogan, Foden (Rodri 69), Mahrez (Jesus 69), Torres, Sterling (Silva 82)
Goals: Torres 12, Jesus 81, Cancelo 90
Olympiacos: de Sa, de Souza, Semedo, Cisse, Holebas, Camara (Masouras 73), M’Vila, Bouchalakis (Rodrigues 45), Randjelovic (Bangna 45), El-Arabi (Mahgoub 76), Valbuena (Soudani 85)
Most relevant, though, was the major positive: Ferran Torres. This young man already looks the part, and not just as a winger or mere reasonable deputy through the middle.
It was not so much his goal itself, more the eye for it that had Guardiola and Olympiacos simultaneously spinning for altogether different reasons. Torres came short and was already flying by the time Kevin De Bruyne had returned his pass, racing beyond markers and sliding underneath Jose Sa.
The 20-year-old was never missing, becoming the third youngest player in Champions League history to score in four consecutive games. The company he keeps in that list is Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe. Valencia only receiving an initial £21million for Torres over the summer is beginning to look really quite insulting.
Gabriel Jesus returned to the fold, scoring minutes after his introduction to make these points safe at a time they were being examined defensively. Sergio Aguero is expected back soon, probably after the international break. But with Torres in this mood, the reliance on the two South Americans might not be quite so desperate.
Their absences were certainly not the chief reason for City’s malaise in the middle third of this game before two stunning late goals – the brawn of Jesus matched in class by Joao Cancelo’s curling finesse in stoppage time.
City were exceptionally good for 40 minutes and a little lax thereafter, further evidence that Guardiola’s team is dropping off for sustained periods, as we have witnessed during Premier League matches so far. Still, even now, they are feeling the effects of a non-existent pre-season.
‘The way we played in the first half, we have to finish the game,’ Guardiola said. ‘It left the game open in the second half and they were better. But when Gabriel scores, a brilliant goal, the game is over.’
Manchester City’s Torres rises up in the box to win the ball ahead of Olympiacos’ Yann M’Vila during the first half
Torres of Manchester City slots the ball through the legs of the goalkeeper to put his side ahead early in the first half
Raheem Sterling reacts after the linesman raised his flag for offside after the forward thought he had scored a second
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola barks orders to his team as he looks to hold onto their first half lead
Guardiola is enthused by the way in which they are beginning to approach games with more direction, however, and their opener came within 12 minutes via Torres. The youngster had come close twice prior to that as well. First his volleyed backheel flick from Riyad Mahrez’s corner was deflected wide, before Torres then evaded a marker to head over moments later.
Sterling was correctly ruled offside when he had the ball in the net 20 minutes later and the chances were fairly steady. De Bruyne wanted to walk one effort in when the away back line had attempted something a little too clever inside their own box, while Mahrez’s shot was valiantly blocked by Pape Cisse.
City’s stranglehold waned and there came occasional moments when they had to rely on Nathan Ake and John Stones, the latter starting his first game since the season’s curtain raiser at Wolves.
As has happened plenty of times already this term, the chances rather dried up, with City tactically more conventional and ultimately more rigid. Olympiacos were not particularly dangerous yet increasingly comfortable in their surroundings. The game drifted a little, frustration from those in blue becoming obvious.
Manchester City dominated in the first period, creating plenty of chances but only managing to score one of their shots
Pape Abou Cisse of Olympiacos is challenged for the ball by Manchester City midfielder Riyad Mahrez in the second half
Olympiacos created a few chances of their own in the second half, but were unable to get back into the match
‘Use the ball a little bit man, come on,’ cried De Bruyne as Phil Foden surrendered possession in the Olympiacos half. Seconds later, Foden gave it away again and the consequences might have been disastrous. City built from the back, Foden dropping to his own 18-yard line but spraying a loose pass straight to Valbuena. Ederson had vacated his station, the goal gaped, but Stones somehow put Valbuena off sufficiently for the France international to embarrassingly slice wide. That was the Greeks’ first effort on goal – on or off target.
‘We are not in a position to control a full 90 minutes,’ Guardiola added definitively. ‘Not yet.’
There was more, Youssef El-Arabi squeezing between Ake and Stones to force Ederson to save. For a lengthy spell of the second half, City’s third straight victory hung in the balance. Guardiola had seen enough, calling for Rodri and Jesus to solidify the result.
Olympiacos had inched their way back in though and were not finished, former Watford full back Jose Holebas screeching an effort right across Ederson’s goal. The empty Etihad gasped. It had all become a bit nervy. Five minutes later and it looked like a rout. A funny night.
Raheem Sterling of Manchester City tries to tackle Olympiacos’ Rafinha in an attempt to win the ball back high up the pitch
Olympiacos failed to capitalise on any of the few chances they made, and were made to pay in the end by City’s goalscorers