Man City ignore injury woes to sink Shakhtar
Manchester City ignored their defensive injury crisis to make a flying start to the Champions League campaign with a 3-0 win against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday.
City boss Pep Guardiola was forced to deploy Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho at centre-back after losing Aymeric Laporte and John Stones to recent injuries.
But Fernandinho slotted in comfortably at the back as City easily subdued Shakhtar with first-half goals from Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan at the Metalist Stadium.
Gabriel Jesus netted City’s third goal in the closing stages to ensure they made the long flight home with three points stowed away.
There was more good news for Guardiola as French defender Benjamin Mendy, on as a late substitute, made his first appearance since April after returning from a knee injury.
With Dinamo Zagreb and Atalanta making up Champions League Group C, City are expected to cruise into the last 16.
This mature performance was the perfect opening to their bid to win the Champions League for the first time, especially coming after Saturday’s shock 3-2 defeat at Norwich in the Premier League.
City have failed to get past the quarter-finals in Guardiola’s previous three seasons in charge, while the Spaniard hasn’t won the tournament since the second of his two titles with Barcelona in 2011.
Those past failures gave extra significance to City’s opening match.
Nicolas Otamendi is the English champions’ only fit centre-back, so Fernandinho was pressed into action, with Guardiola giving the Brazilian the captain’s armband for his first start this season.
The 34-year-old had lost his place as City’s holding midfielder following the pre-season signing of Rodri from Atletico Madrid.
Fernandinho adapted well enough against the limited threat posed by Shakhtar, who are meeting City for a third successive season in the group stage.
City became the first English team to win at Shakhtar with a 3-0 victory last season and this was an equally comfortable success.
Rodri wasted a chance to put City in front inside the first minute when he met Kevin De Bruyne’s free-kick with a misdirected header inside the six-yard box.
Given all City’s injuries, Guardiola was right to look alarmed when England right-back Kyle Walker started to limp following a challenge on Marlos.
Fortunately, Walker showed he wasn’t seriously hurt when his block stopped Ismaily in his tracks.
City were dominating possession without testing Shakhtar keeper Andriy Pyatov and Jesus’s shot deflected for a corner after the Brazilian was teed up by Gundogan’s clever pass.
Their pressure was rewarded in the 24th minute when Jesus flicked the ball back to Gundogan on the edge of the area.
Gundogan’s curling strike cannoned back off a post into the path of Mahrez, who had the simple task of slotting into the net from close range for his first goal of the season.
It took 35 minutes for Shakhtar to muster their first shot on target when Junior Moraes had a close-range effort well saved at the near post by Ederson.
City’s response was emphatic and they doubled their lead in the 38th minute. Mahrez was the provider this time with an incisive surge towards the Shakhtar area.
The Algerian deftly picked out Gundogan’s run and he finished with a clinical strike that flashed past Pyatov.A rare lapse from Ederson led to a communication breakdown with Fernandinho, the City goalkeeper needlessly racing out of his area as Moraes beat him to the ball and lobbed just wide of the empty net.
But City were soon back in control and Gundogan was denied by Pyatov before, from the rebound, Raheem Sterling hit the outside of the near post after Sergiy Kryvtsov’s miscued clearance.Jesus wrapped up the points in the 76th minute when he slotted home from De Bruyne’s pass for his second goal of the season.