Manchester City were a pleasure to watch in an exhibit on how the game they can play must surely make their opponent feel woefully inferior. Club Brugge started undefeated in the competition until they came up against a side that made this third Group A encounter a lag. The side of Philippe Clément went away, quite simply, in the same way as so many others: reduced to extras in the scintillating spectacle City.
Perhaps most impressive beyond the individual flourishes – Phil Foden, in particular, in the foreground – was the concerted hunger of a team that continued to chase the ball and more goals even taking three goals after just 53 minutes via Kyle Walker’s dead-eyed finish. .
Pep Guardiola was so relaxed that he was able to take out Foden and Kevin De Bruyne just past the hour: a good summary of the impressive City to a crowded and noisy Jan Breydelstadion for this early evening kick-off. Those who entered this stadium took three minutes to create a fourth as Raheem Sterling skated down the left and shot the ball for Cole Palmer, a 19-year-old enjoying a second Champions League appearance, to gently sweep 18 meters for a first in the competition.
Jack Grealish rushed into the penalty area and fell in the presence of Clinton Mata for the opening act of a game – the forward thought it should have been a penalty. Istvan Kovacs, the referee, had a clear vision and dismissed the appeal. Then Grealish lobbed Simon Mignolet to find the net but this time Kovacs fouled, for a push on Mata.
Moments later, the No.10 passed, rolled the ball to an overlapping Bernardo Silva, but when he delivered, no teammate could finish.
It was worrying on the part of City who can be a heavyweight as they approach top gear. An offside strike from Rodri and Foden finding the secondary net continued the momentum. In their pristine white stripe, the visitors were a roar of invention, Rodri picking up balls around and through the grass, as Foden’s sense of geometry bewitched the hosts.
There was a breathtaking moment when Foden, in traffic, swiveled and grazed a pass to João Cancelo along the left which scuttled the Brugge rearguard, which summed up the quality of City. Toothless was a fair characterization of Clement’s men, and when Mata illegally armed the effervescent Silva, he was the personification of another: frustration. Exactly the same thrill was felt by out-of-spells De Bruyne when Silva pushed him close to the penalty spot only to obediently unload directly at Mignolet.
The 11 men dominating their hosts formed so close to Guardiola’s current first XI that the series mixer could send, with Foden the nominal No.9, closing in on a Grealish cross, before the youngster created a smart opener. Coming back halfway a diagonal found Cancelo and after a clever check with his chest the left-back slid past a rushing Mignolet.
Sadly, the Portuguese’s celebration was marred by missiles thrown at him, but from here City were blown away, a bewildering proposition of runs and inclined passes. One illustration came in a rat-a-tat percussion move in which Rodri tapped Silva who immediately relayed to Walker, whose ball attempt was only repelled at the last moment.
At the other end, Eduard Sobel’s break forced Ruben Dias to grab a corner in a rare foray into Brugge. This was followed a little later by a second delivery from the opposite side, which came to nothing.
And, now, has come City’s second. Mahrez, silent so far, taunted Stanley Nsoki with dancing feet inside the area, No.4 bit the hook and shot him down. The Algerian stood up and coldly beat Mignolet on the spot, to the keeper’s right, before Foden finished his 45-minute masterclass by darting, spinning, then slipping the ball to Mahrez, who should have do 3-0.
The second half was a question of how many City could score given their hunger pangs. The total domination of the ball and the tempo continued. De Bruyne lifted a cross from the left, Bruges scrambled that. Cancelo attempted to feed Foden and the Belgian side, once again, roughly allowed. Bruges was constantly pummeled by those in white shirts who looked like ghosts they could never quite catch.
Their third came via a streak that went De Bruyne-Mahrez-De Bruyne, whose crafty pass was crushed by a jubilant Walker. At the final whistle Sterling had missed the opportunity to make it 5-0 and Hans Vanaken recovered a late consolation before Mahrez scored one more for City.