Three and easy Mahrez leads way for City in Ukraine cruise

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Luke Ed­wards in Kharkiv

You sus­pect there could be some test­ing times ahead for Manch­ester City, but this was not a night for them to be wor­ried by any­thing as they in­flicted a third suc­ces­sive Cham­pi­ons League de­feat on Shakhtar Donetsk.

The Ukrainian cham­pi­ons are a de­cent side but are sim­ply not at the level of City, who breezed through their open­ing group game with the same ease and cool­ness they had done when win­ning here last sea­son. It was a mis­match.

City were not ar­ro­gant but they knew they were too good and Shakhtar were sim­ply too wor­ried about what their English op­po­nents could do them to try to ex­pose a patched-up back four. Fer­nand­inho’s first start at cen­tre-back since Fe­bru­ary was a stroll. He will be hop­ing more fol­low.

This is what some com­plain about in the group stages. There are too many for­mal­ity vic­to­ries for the strong­est clubs from the rich­est leagues to of­fer gen­uine ex­cite­ment. It was flat, pre­dictable and City should have won by more.

Even though they were not op­er­at­ing at full throt­tle, they kept cre­at­ing chances and the ag­gre­gate score between th­ese two sides over the last three games is City 12 Shakhtar 0.

It told us lit­tle about what City’s back­line will be like un­der pres­sure and the wor­ries re­main that they will be harmed in the fu­ture. With Aymeric La­porte out un­til Fe­bru­ary and John Stones miss­ing un­til Novem­ber, the folly in not re­plac­ing Vin­cent Kom­pany in the sum­mer may yet be ex­posed. But it will not be done by teams with Shakhtar’s qual­i­ties, or rather the lack of them.

Shakhtar are pleas­ant to watch but their of­fen­sive play­ers are skil­ful and quick, rather than pow­er­ful and di­rect. It meant Fer­nand­inho, a de­fen­sive mid­fielder, not a cen­tre­back, was able to sit deep and rely on the pro­tec­tion of Ro­dri and Ilkay Gun­do­gan in front of him.

“I didn’t have doubts that he would do well,” an im­mensely sat­is­fied Pep Guardi­ola said. “We had two thirty-some­thing-year-olds play­ing at cen­tre-back to­day, Nico [Ota­mendi] is 31, Fer­nand­inho is 34, but the next two af­ter them are an 18- and a 17-year-old.

“I don’t know if they can play two games in four days. We shall see. Fer­nand­inho can play any po­si­tion, he’s an in­cred­i­ble guy.”

What Shakhtar do not have – some­thing a num­ber of Premier League sides do, in­clud­ing Satur­day’s op­po­nents Watford – is a pow­er­ful cen­tre-for­ward who can phys­i­cally dom­i­nate the Brazil­ian and worry City when crosses are fired into the box.

City held firm un­der some early pres­sure and took the lead when Gabriel Je­sus teed up Gun­do­gan, who stroked a non­cha­lant, side­footed fin­ish which came back off the post and re­bounded per­fectly for Riyad Mahrez to score.

There was vir­tual si­lence in the ground, with only the cheers of about 200 trav­el­ling sup­port­ers and the tame cel­e­bra­tions of the City play­ers and bench heard in the chilly au­tumn night.

Shakhtar should have equalised but as soon as they could not con­vert one of two good chances in the first half, they were beaten.

Tai­son made a fool of Ro­dri, pok­ing the ball through his legs and sprint­ing away. The Shakhtar cap­tain did bril­liantly, wait­ing for the per­fect mo­ment to re­lease his pass to Ju­nior Mo­raes, but his fin­ish was poor and Eder­son stood up well.

It was a costly miss. Sec­onds later, Shakhtar were two down. This was City at their best. Ro­dri spread play wide to Mahrez, who col­lected it on the run and darted in­side the full-back. Shakhtar’s de­fence could not re­or­gan­ise and the Al­ge­rian rolled a pass side­ways for Gun­do­gan to con­trol and fin­ish in one fluid move­ment.

The Premier League cham­pi­ons were in con­trol. It was not a case of whether they would win, but by how many as Kevin De Bruyne found the side-net­ting.

Shakhtar, though, still had enough go­ing for­ward to open up the City de­fence once more be­fore the break, Mo­raes again un­able to beat Eder­son. Other teams will be look­ing closely at the ease with which the City goal­keeper was ex­posed by a sim­ple curled through ball though.

City should have made it three at the start of the sec­ond half. Taras Stepa­nenko passed the ball straight to Gun­do­gan, whose shot was saved by An­driy Py­a­tov, be­fore Ra­heem Ster­ling hit the post.

Still the chances kept com­ing. Ota­mendi had a goal chalked off for off­side, Gun­do­gan and Ster­ling got in a tan­gle and De Bruyne dragged an ef­fort wide. Even­tu­ally so did their third goal, as De Bruyne played in Je­sus and he fin­ished bril­liantly.

“It was eas­ier at the back be­cause we played as a team and the guys up front closed down the space,” Fer­nand­inho said. “It was a quiet night at the back be­cause the team played a very good game, but I’ve been train­ing in that po­si­tion [cen­tre­back] since the start of the sea­son.”

Lis­ten up: Gabriel Je­sus re­acts af­ter scor­ing Manch­ester City’s third goal

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