MAN CITY 4, CLUB BRUGGE 1
Manchester City, again far from their fluent best, completed an emphatic win at home to Club Brugge and nudge close to the knockout stages of the Champions League.
Goals from Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and substitutes Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus took City top of Group A as they overhauled PSG.
And with two group games remaining, it would take a freak set of results for City not to make the last 16 of Europe’s premier club competition.
Two weeks after winning 5-1 in Belgium, it looked a home banker for City in the return at the Etihad.
Yet the final scoreline failed to tell the full story as Club Brugge were far from swept away.
After City took an early lead, Club Brugge were level between the 17th and 54th minutes as the hosts, who had lost their two previous games, at times looked edgy and nervous.
Once City regained the lead, the confidence returned as they looked more like themselves in the latter stages.Embed from Getty Images
City manager Pep Guardiola said: “It was fully deserved. In the first few minutes we scored a goal but after conceding we dropped a little bit.
“The second half was really good. A good game, good victory. We need one point to go through, three points to win the group.”
On Leipzig helping them out with a late goal against PSG, Guardiola added: “We help each other. What we’ve done these years… when you’re at Manchester City, you realise nobody will help you.
“Everything to do, we’ve done it. When you’re in high ranking and big clubs, I understand maybe. Here no. When we win, we do it.
“All the titles I won before were because I was at big clubs. Absolutely, the pleasure is higher [in winning things with City]. The fight to win the hierarchy in the Premier League is good.
“We played really good football. I liked how we played.”
Man-of-the-match Foden admitted City were far from their best, explaining: “I thought we were sloppy in the first half and let them get back into the game. We got in at half-time and spoke about what was going wrong.
“We changed it in the second half and played better. We looked a bit heavy.
“The manager wasn’t happy [at half-time]. You have to take his advice. We changed a couple of things and were better in possession and hurt them a lot more.
“Once we get the rhythm, we play our lovely football. I’m delighted with the second half.
“I’m really happy for them [Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling]. It’s important for attacking players to score. I’m scoring a lot of goals. I’m just enjoying it.
“It was a really important win today and puts us in a good position.”
Kevin de Bruyne was dropped to the bench by Guardiola.
De Bruyne has been struggling for form recently and was replaced by Ilkay Gundogan, one of three changes from the team beaten by Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Mahrez and John Stones were also included, with Jesus and Ruben Dias dropping to the bench.
Dutch midfielder Ruud Vormer returned to captain Club Brugge, who looked to atone for their 5-1 loss on home soil a fortnight ago.
Vormer replaced Kamal Sowah, who dropped to the bench. Brandon Mechele replaced Eder Alvarez Balanta in the only other change for the visitors.
It was one-way traffic from the start and the only surprise it took until the 15th minute to take the lead as Joao Cancelo had already been denied by the upright.
The breakthrough came when Mahrez produced a deadly dribble and released Cancelo who fired over a low cross from the left which Foden walked into the net from inside the six-yard box.
A VAR check was needed for a possible offside before his fifth goal of the season was confirmed.
Club Brugge were level within two minutes through an own goal from John Stones.
Goalkeeper Ederson made an initial smart save to deny Hans Vanaken. The loose ball was fired back into the goalmouth from the left by Charles De Ketelaere and, bizarrely beat the Brazilian stopper after deflecting off both Bernardo Silva and Stones.
Club Brugge, completely outplayed early on, grew in confidence and had chances to take the lead.
Scottish defender Jack Hendry directed a header from a free kick straight at Ederson who then had to deal with a decent shot from De Ketelaere.
City made a bright start to the second period as Mahrez, Cancelo and Stones all had decent chances inside the opening six minutes.
Moments after the dangerous De Ketelaere missed a chance to put Club Brugge ahead, City finally regained the lead.
Cancelo retrieved an over-hit cross from Mahrez and centred to the far post to find Mahrez free inside the six-yard box to head home his eighth goal of the season.
And six of the 14 Champions League goals scored by Mahrez have been against Club Brugge.
Guardiola made his first two changes with 22 minutes left, Grealish and Mahrez being replaced by Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling.
And the two substitutes combined for City’s third goal in the 72nd minute.
A brilliant passing move ended with Foden releasing Gundogan on the left and he cut the ball back for Sterling to walk the ball into the net at the far post from inside the six-yard box, only his second of the season for City.
It was Sterling’s 22nd goal in the Champions League as becomes England’s fourth highest scorer in the competition,
There was another change in the 75th minute, De Bruyne for Bernardo Silva. And that was quickly followed by the final two as Cole Palmer and Oleksandr Zinchenko replaced Kyle Walker and Foden.
Palmer would have added a fourth goal but for a fine save from former Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet low to his left.
And moments later Mignolet was at his best again to keep out an effort by Jesus with his legs as the Brazilian bore down on goal.
City’s relentless late pressure was rewarded in the second of two added minutes with a fourth goal.
Cancelo provided his third assist of the game as he set up Jesus who fired low to the left of Mignolet, his fourth goal of the season.