Group stage record ‘not enough’ as Man City aim for Champions League progress
Bernardo Silva believes Manchester City’s cruise through the group stage of the Champions League with a record number of points is a sign of how far the club have progressed in Europe but knows it is in the knockout phase that Pep Guardiola’s men will be judged.
In four previous seasons under Guardiola, City have failed to make it beyond the quarter-finals despite the hundreds of millions invested by the club’s Abu Dhabi owners to win the competition for the first time.
Despite Guardiola making a number of changes on Wednesday, a comfortable 3-0 victory over Marseille on saw City top Group C with a club record 16 points from a possible 18.
“I hope it’s a mark of how far we’ve progressed,” said Silva on setting that new record. “We always want to do better than in the last seasons, so we’re very pleased with our group campaign.
“It’s a good start for us – we know it’s not enough but it’s a very good start. We’re into the last 16 and our goal is to do better than we did in the last three seasons and that’s what we will try to do.”
With City already guaranteed top spot in the group, Guardiola took the chance to hand a number of his key players a rest ahead of Saturday’s trip to Manchester United in the Premier League.
“We didn’t play for points but we took it seriously. It was a good performance,” said Guardiola. “Sixteen points, just one draw, it was a really good group stage.”
City’s reserves were still far too strong for Marseille, who slipped to a 14th defeat in their last 15 Champions League games and missed out on the chance to leapfrog Olympiakos into third place in the group.
City made the breakthrough three minutes after half-time when Ferran Torres pounced after Valere Germain inadvertently played in the Spanish international as he tried to tackle Riyad Mahrez inside the box.
Uncharacteristically for a Guardiola side, City have struggled to score goals, particularly in the Premier League so far this season.
Sergio Aguero’s predatory instincts have been sorely missed as he had featured in just four games in between two lengthy injury spells prior to Wednesday.
The Argentine was introduced midway through the second half and took just 10 minutes to show why he is City’s all-time leading scorer with a poacher’s finish to prod home the rebound after Mandanda had saved Nathan Ake’s powerful header.
Raheem Sterling netted his first goal in seven games at the weekend and the England international claimed he got another in stoppage time by sweeping home a loose ball from point-blank range, but UEFA registered City’s third as an own goal from Alvaro Gonzalez.