Jesus and Stones lead way in City display of total football
This will have been a hard watch for Feyenoord fans, but the Dutch know Total Football when they see it and the purist in them must have wanted to doff their caps to Pep Guardiola’s vibrant side.
The Dutch champions were making their first appearance in the Champions League for 14 years and, let’s face it, looked very much like a Europa League outfit, but City would still have bullied better teams playing like this.
It says a lot about how Guardiola wants to play and the number of players he commits to attack that centre-half John Stones should open and finish the scoring with two headers, with goals from Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus sandwiched in between. There was elegance to City’s play, yes, but it was striking just how physically strong they looked. As relentless as they were ruthless, they refused to give their opponents time to catch their breath. “We weren’t ready for that,” Giovanni van Bronckhurst, the Feyenoord coach, admitted.
Stones actually made two blocks from Feyenoord’s only two ventures forward of note that, in their own way, will have satisfied Guardiola as much as the goals given the criticism that continues to be aimed at the England man defensively. But Kevin De Bruyne was City’s orchestrator-in-chief, popping up all over the place to drive his team forward with that languid, understated brilliance of his.
“Kevin is one of the best players I’ve ever seen in my life in that he can make absolutely everything [happen]”, Guardiola said. “As for John, there is no doubt about his quality. His two goals were so important, but John knows what is the gap where he has to improve – defending the duels. He’s so young, he is able to achieve and when he does he will become an exceptional central defender. It’s a perfect start for us. Last season we were not able to win one game away. That’s why if you want to make a step forward you have to do this.”
The biggest compliment you could pay City is that they had barely got out of third gear in the 25 minutes it took to run up a threegoal lead and end this as a contest. You got an idea of what it must have been like to be a Feyenoord player in the space of a few seconds late in the first half, when Michiel Kramer made no attempt to play the ball as he kicked out at Kyle Walker and then Tonny Vilhena hacked down De Bruyne.
Feyenoord were pegged so far back that they rarely got out of their defensive 5-4-1 shape, with Walker and Benjamin Mendy looking to get in behind the full-backs, and the constant rotation and movement of the omnipresent De Bruyne and the two Silvas, David and Bernardo, made them so hard to pin down.
It was like trying to trap a pesky mouse. And that is before we get to Aguero and Jesus up front. Guardiola’s obsession with signing Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez is hard to fathom when he has a pair like that to pick from, and Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling cannot even get in the side. Is Sanchez honestly an upgrade on Aguero or Jesus? And how much value is there in bringing a 28-year-old to the club when it could make it even harder to accommodate Bernardo (23), afforded only his second start since a £44 million move from Monaco, and Sane (21), a substitute again despite a swashbuckling two-goal cameo against Liverpool.
It took 97 seconds for City to get on the scoresheet and the only shock was the identity of the goalscorer. David Silva crossed from the left and Stones powered down a header that hit Vilhena before worming through his legs.
If that should have been kept out, Feyenoord stood no chance with the second. City worked the ball nonchalantly out to Walker on the right flank and the England de- fender drilled over a cross. Drilled is the right word because the ball was travelling at some speed by the time it bounced in front of Aguero and yet the Argentina striker merely used the pace of the ball to hook an exquisite, beautifully controlled volley past the hapless Brad Jones. It was the work of a master of his art.
Goal No3? Silva crossed from the right by-line, the ball was not cleared and ran out to Mendy, who drove in a shot from 20 yards that Jones parried.
Nicolas Otamendi was offside but not interfering with play, and there was Jesus to tap home.
A fourth only seemed a matter of time in the second half and it was fitting it originated from the wondrous right foot of De Bruyne.
Silva played a short corner to the Belgian, who whipped an inswinging corner to the far post where Stones thundered home his second header of the night.
“It’s a pleasure to play like this, the level of the players is so big, it’s happiness to play like this,” De Bruyne said. Too right.
Perfect contact: John Stones (centre) rises to head in City’s fourth goal