Phil Foden’s arrival puts Manchester City in last 16 with win over Olympiacos | Champions League


Manchester City entered the last 16 of the Champions League, this galloping victory giving them a maximum of 12 points with two games left in Group C. They were as ascending as Olympiakos were tasteless and can now focus on the Premier League, where they sit in 13th position.

This victory came thanks to the boot of the impressive Phil Foden, who has talent in abundance that made him number one, as he so often does, against the Greek champions. In the last group matches, City face Porto and Marseille and could end with a perfect record of six wins.

“We had an incredible group stage,” said Pep Guardiola. “We have already qualified and we will try to finish first.

“We didn’t concede a shot on target. I know it sounds easy, but it isn’t. Unfortunately we only scored one goal, but the team is alive.

“We were a lot more aggressive – it’s not easy to play against nine defenders. Our laundry was so good. We attacked with more desire. We played very well in all departments. We are in the next round and can focus on other competitions.

For Benjamin Mendy it was a first appearance in nearly two months due to a muscle injury and the left-back was involved in City’s opening forays, one of which ended by a fierce shot from Rodri that went straight to José Sá.

The Frenchman was part of a wave City who came relentlessly at home until the interval. Foden has played a central role in this area. A back heel to Raheem Sterling split the defense. Then a slide to the left of the 20-year-old foreshadowed a relentless effort that tested Sá.

As is often the case, City kept the ball and with it any prospect of scoring. Foden played a pass into the area to Gabriel Jesus and it was pushed back, but Olympiakos already looked tired with 15 minutes still to go.

When Mady Camara dispossessed Jesus and Olympiakos took a first break, it didn’t last as City were instantly back on them, throwing the ball at will. Ousseynou Ba’s aerial kick of a clearance was therefore not what was needed, but summed up the shift presented.

The feeling was that one goal of opening up the city could lead to several more. Foden’s free kick from the left nearly created this, delivering just past Rúben Dias.

Sergio Agüero returned for Manchester City in the second half. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters

Before kick-off, Guardiola had claimed full responsibility for City’s paltry 10 goals in eight Premier League games. In this competition, the results were good: nine out of three. The prolonged absence of Sergio Agüero was partly at stake in the domestic difficulties and when Jesus was clear on goal the Brazilian hit the keeper where the Argentine surely would have given City a lead to compliment their dominance.

Finally, 10 minutes before the break, they found it through fluid movement with an irresistible end product. Ilkay Gündogan passed to Jesus and he found Sterling’s smart trail on the left. His no-look back heel went bad defense and there was Foden to hammer home.

It was fun, but in the interim, a one-goal lead didn’t reflect City’s superiority over an opponent with no ambition. Sterling may have beaten Sá with two long-range attempts, but the keeper saved well each time.

The period ended with an element of niggle – particularly of Rafinha, Camara and Ba who sought to piss off Sterling and John Stones.

When the second half started City were in the knockout phase, aware that even a conceded goal wouldn’t affect that. Olympiakos showed more urgency – in fact pressing City – but Bernardo Silva could still let Sá fly and moments later Gündogan followed suit, narrowly missing the target.

Foden went on to be the best performer. A free kick thrown from the left was struck with purity and when he left his left lane it allowed Mendy to gallop and cross. The booming sterling should have doubled the lead. Rúben Semedo’s challenge knocked Jesus down but no penalty was awarded.

As the final 20 minutes began, Olympiacos’ hopes rested on a shattering strike. Yet without any attempt at goal – until City’s 19 – it was unlikely.

So it turned out and with Agüero as a substitute, City ended in a particularly hot mood.


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