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Grealish scores cracker on Champions League debut
De Bruyne makes impressive return from injury
Nkunku's hat-trick exposes defensive lapses
Manchester City are so ridiculously good, so swift to move through the gears when required, that they can concede three goals against RB Leipzig and still never look like losing.
This was a brilliantly fun way to start another Champions League campaign for Pep Guardiola’s side, with six different goalscorers, as they built an early two-goal lead, let it slip and swiftly opened it up again.
Every time Leipzig pulled a goal back, City responded with another. It was almost cruel to watch, like a cat playing with a bird with a broken wing.
There was so much to enjoy, so much to laugh about and cheer and so many goals, yet this still felt strangely routine. The starter at the beginning of a banquet.
Nobody who was here can have failed to be entertained, yet while some clubs see European nights as the pinnacle, the midweek magic to break the mundanity of domestic chores, there remains an emotional disconnect where City are concerned.
Perhaps it is because Guardiola’s side always seem to win these group games at a canter. That they are so easily able to outclass and outplay European football’s middle ranked sides, it is not worth getting worked up for. Or attending. This was well short of a capacity crowd at the Etihad Stadium, which is a shame because this was a wonderful, if slightly bonkers game to watch.
City appeared to have won the game inside the first half-hour. Nathan Ake scored his first Champions League goal with a header from a corner before the relentless pressure exerted by Pep Guardiola’s side led to a second.
So dominant were those in light blue shirts that Lepizig crumbled under the stress, centre back Nordi Mukiele so spooked by the thoughts of Jack Grealish running in behind him that he needlessly headed Kevin De Bruyne’s low cross into his own goal.
City were slick, in control but Leipzig kept finding a goal to briefly cause some concern, with Christopher Nkunku scoring an impressive hat-trick which, unfortunately for him, few will remember because of the result.
After scoring his first with a header, City merely reapplied offensive pressure and scored a third before the break, Riyad Mahrez converting from the penalty spot after Lukas Klostermann had blocked Ferran Torres’ header with his hands.
Yet, as good as City were, as pleasing on the eye, the ambivalence on European nights lingers like a bad smell in a windowless room.
There was nothing alarming in the sight of so many empty seats , or particularly shocking given this is the first of three home group games to be played before Christmas.
Tickets are expensive, demands on incomes are high, nothing was ever going to be decided at this stage of the competition and plenty of other grounds across the continent will not have been filled this week.
Even so, this was the first European game City had played at home in front of fans for more than 18 months, and still so many could not be bothered to attend. Those that did come to cheer their team, continued to boo the Champions League anthem too, a reminder of old resentments and battles lost.
City never looked like losing this one. Even when Leipzig pulled another goal back, another header from Nkunku that exposed a sloppiness in the heart of City’s defence, it offered a false impression of a close contest.
When you have paid £100 million from a player, you do so in the hope they will score goals like the one Grealish did here, cutting inside from the left flank, dropping a shoulder, leaving the defender flat-footed and heavy-legged, before smashing a curling shot inside the far post.
It was the sort of goal very few can score. The sublime turned simple; or at least made to appear so. Grealish looks like he has been playing for City for months not weeks, the supposed weight of his British record transfer fee being carried like a sheet of paper in his hands rather than a burden on his back.
“I loved it. I've been waiting a while,” said Grealish after marking his first Champions League appearance with such a special goal. “The past few weeks, I couldn't wait for this game. It's a great night. It was one of those games. It had absolutely everything. In the end we're delighted to get the win against a good team full of energy and young players.”
City were cruising, but once again switched off at the back moments after Torres thought he had scored their fifth only to be denied by an offside flag.
Leipzig are not a bad side and Nkunku scored a fine third to complete his hat*trick. The visitors sensed a comeback was on once more, but were again mistaken. This time City made sure it was over.
Joao Cancelo smashed home a spectacular fifth two minutes later to knock the fight out of the Germans and when the former City player defender Angelino was shown a second yellow card, Gabriel Jesus made it six. A statement has been made.
As well as the report, Mike McGrath was also at the match
Full time Man City 6 RB Leipzig 3
City didn't have it all their own way by any means and there were defensive lapses but going forward De Bruyne, Grealish, Mahrez, Bernardo and the wonderful Cancelo were simply irresistible.
90+3 min Man City 6 RB Leipzig 3
Fernandinho wins it back and sprays it up to Mahrez who bombs down the right, pushed a bit too deep before he can get his shot off and it scuds into Gulacsi's chest.
90+2 min Man City 6 RB Leipzig 3
Gundogan's pass intended to put Mahrez into the box down the right is picked off by Mukiele.
90 min Man City 6 RB Leipzig 3
Before Jesus scored there had been chances for Ake, but Sterling was offside when he followed in a shot, and City's No9 himself.
Loads have left the ground even though there's a chance of a rare 10th goal. Some folk, eh?
Four minutes to be added on.
88 min Man City 6 RB Leipzig 3
Foden took a corner on the left, bending out to Mahrez to the right of the D. He hammered a half-volley that hit Ake to the left of the keeper and it rebounded off him to Ruben Dias who looked to be offside but ultimately was judged not to be. He stabbed a short pass to Jesus who squeezed a shot into the roof of the net from six yards by the left post.
After an unusually long VAR check
Unusually long by Uefa standards, the goal stands.
Man City 6 RB Leipzig 3 (Jesus)
84 min Man City 5 RB Leipzig 3
Hat-trick hero Christopher Nkunku - far post header, near-post header, right-foot shot - departs/ Gvardiol comes on in his place.
82 min Man City 5 RB Leipzig 3
Final City substitution: off goes Jack Grealish to a rapturous ovation. Gabriel Jesus replaces him.
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) September 15, 2021
81 min Man City 5 RB Leipzig 3
Forgot to say that Brian Brobbey replaced Olmo before RB's third and City's fifth.
79 min Man City 5 RB Leipzig 3
Red card for Angelino for a second yellow, a scything foul on Cancelo in full flight.
76 min Man City 5 RB Leipzig 3
City take a free-kick earned by Sterling on the left quickly, hurry it over to Cancelo who smashes a shot past Gulacsi into the top left.
Man City 5 RB 3 (Cancelo) A right-foot thunderbolt from 25 yards. A screamer. A purler.
73 min Man City 4 RB Leipzig 3
Hat-trick for the French forward and after two headers he scores his third with a crisp angled shot from the right after excellent hold-up play and a spin from Pulsen. Nkunku hit it across Ederson who looked disgusted that it crept in at the far post.
Man City 4 RB 3 (Nkunku)
71 min Man City 4 RB Leipzig 2
Kevin De Bruyne has been superb on his return but it's time for a breather and he will be replaced by Phil Foden, unrecognisable at first sight now the bleach has grown out and been cut off. Raheem Sterling comes on for Ferran Torres.
70 min Man City 4 RB Leipzig 2
Szoboszlai lets fly from 25 yards, a wobbly, powerful, big dipper of a shot that whistles over the bar.
68 min Man City 4 RB Leipzig 2
And for Cancelo's encore he does it again with an eye of the needle threader fully 55 yards for Torres this time who beats Gulacsi to it, taps it round the keeper and rolls it into the net ... but up went the flag and he was a couple of centimetres ahead of Mukiele when the pass was played.
65 min Man City 4 RB Leipzig 2
Amazing pass, almost 70 yards from Cancelo from the right for Gundogan to gallop on to through the middle but he just didn't have the legs to get there and toe it over a scrambling Gulacsi.
62 min Man City 4 RB Leipzig 2
The raft of substitutions mow allowed in CL games usually kills most matches.
Fouls on Fernandinho and De Bruyne halt Leipzig's progress.
60 min Man City 4 RB Leipzig 2
City subs: Fernandinho replaces Rodri; Gundogan on for Bernardo.
RB subs: Haidara for Laimer; Polsen for Andre Silva, Szoboszlai for Forsberg.
58 min Man City 4 RB Leipzig 2
Special goal by a special player. Held his run to take the ball in his stride wide on the left 30 yards out. He slaloms into the box, the ball under immaculate control, gliding between Klostermann and Orban to set the ball on to his right foot and bend a shot into the right side of the goal, kissing the side-netting
Man City 4 RB Leipzig 2 (Grealish)
55 min Man City 3 RB Leipzig 2
Gaps appearing now between Rodri and the centre-backs as if they no longer trust the high line of the first half.
53 min Man City 3 RB Leipzig 2
Lightning break by City swarming forward. The ball is worked to De Bruyne 22 yards out, dead centre, and he wraps his right instep round a shot that he hopes to whip into the bottom left corner but does not spare the rod, imparts too much whip and bends it half a metre wide.
51 min Man City 3 RB Leipzig 1
Laimer brings the ball through the centre-circle, De Bruyne trips over the referee creating a gap when Laimer slides a pass down the left for Olmp who stands up a cross for Nkunku to head home from six yards.
City 3 RB 2 (Nkunku)
48 min Man City 3 RB Leipzig 1
Grealish dribbles away from Adams who comes at him from behind on his right and clumps him on the shin. Free-kick and a booking.
46 min Man City 3 RB Leipzig 1
Leipzig are straight on to the attack but lose the ball and De Bruyne catches them short at the back with a terrific 50 yard pass to Torres haring down the inside-left but he makes a mess of his finish as Gulacsi raced out and instead of chipping him, gives him no trouble at all.
Half-time Man City 3 RB Leipzig 1
City kill off RB's mini-revival. The understanding between De Bruyne and Grealish may be a work in progress but it's already enough to make Guardiola purr like a cheetah and Mahrez, back in the side, must be delighted De Bruyne is back to pull the strings. The only moments of worry have come when their offside trap has broken down but they look on course to cruise to a comfortable victory.
45 min Man City 3 RB Leipzig 1
Cancelo's cross towards the penalty spot was met by Torres. Klostermann was touch tight when Torres won the header and the ball barely travelled 30cm before hitting his arm but the ref felt, on second look, that it shouldn't have been where it was.
Mahrez steps up and strokes a curling shot into the top right corner, utterly unstoppable.
City penalty Mahrez to take
GOAL!! Man City 3 RB Leipzig 1
44 min Man City 2 RB Leipzig 1
VAR check for a City penalty for Klostermann hand-balling Torres's header. Was his arm in an unnatural position? VAR tells him to go and have a look and he decides it is a penalty.
43 min Man City 2 RB Leipzig 1
It's all been coming down the left, City's right. Forsberg and Olmo have been getting in behind Cancelo this past couple of minutes and now the pass matches the movement. Forsberg, with too much time, stands up a cross to the far post where Mukiele easily beats Zinchenko to nod it a couple of yards back across and Nkunku nods it in.
Man City 2 RB Leipzig 1 (Nkunku)
41 min Man City 2 RB Leipzig 0
Much better from RB Leipzig, getting Forsberg clear down the left.
39 min Man City 2 RB Leipzig 0
Ake races back to defend Angelino's menacing cross at the cost of a corner when Olmo, for once, beats their high line. Olmo's volley from the corner is blocked out for another which is overhit and Zinchenko shepherds it out for a throw-in.
37 min Man City 2 RB Leipzig 0
Rodri commits a cynical/professional/tactical/Fernadinho foul on Olmo as he threatened to scamper through midfield and get a run on Ake.
33 min Man City 2 RB Leipzig 0
Andre Silva pokes the ball into the goal at the second attempt when played through by Forsberg. His first shot hits the advancing Ederson's left ankle and he runs round the other side to slot it home but had been caught in City's offside trap when receiving the pass.
31 min Man City 2 RB Leipzig 0
City in cruise control here. One fears that Jesse Marsch could be give the order of the boot very soon. Leipzig are working hard but can't cope with De Bruyne and Grealish, Bernardo and Mahrez.
29 min Man City 2 RB Leipzig 0
That didn't come from the free-kick - RB Leipzig managed to scramble Ake's header away but when De Bruyne comes back down the right and whips another cross through the six-yard box, Mukiele is so spooked by the proximity of Grealish when the centre eludes Gulacsi that he dives to head it behind but messes up his angles and nods it into an empty net instead.
City 2 Leipzig 0 (Mukiele og)
27 min Man City 1 RB Leipzig 0
Fantastic cross from De Bruyne, full of pace and menace finds its way over to Grealish who is fouled by Nkunku, giving De Bruyne another opportunity to curl over a free-kick, this time from the left.
25 min Man City 1 RB Leipzig 0
Nkunku puts the Leipzig fans in good heart when the ball comes to him on the left of the City box on the end of Forsberg's pass but he drags his shot wide and was offside in any case.
23 min Man City 1 RB Leipzig 0
21 min Man City 1 RB Leipzig 0
Mahrez, found by De Bruyne, cuts in off the right as he so often has and whips a left-foot shot that seems to be angling towards the bottom right corner until it strikes Orban but the referee deems it a goal-kick.
19 min Man City 1 RB Leipzig 0
Bernardo is rather quirkily booked by the referee for a high foot despite the fact that he was swinging to volley it and Adams. who was on the floor bounced up to head it. The ball was barely hip high (to those in a vertical position). .
17 min Man City 1 RB Leipzig 0
It's all very well zonal marking from a corner but the players defending the edge of the box have to track their runners or the ones by the six-yard line have no chance to match the momentum of the attacker.
City 1 Leipzig 0 (Ake) Left completely free at a corner, he races in from the 18-yard line to the penalty spot to bury a header from Grealish's, fizzing inswinging cross from the left.
15 min Man City 0 RB Leipzig 0
Another RB free-kick, maybe 40 yards out on the left following Torres' foul. Angelino whips it to the D, Ake heads it out to Olmo who cushions it and then tries an up and under, swerving, dipping volley that doesn't dip quickly enough to limbo under the bar. Ederson watches it go by.
13 min Man City 0 RB Leipzig 0
Torres goes down under the challenge of Adams in the box but he was offside and we don't have to bother whether it was a foul or not. (Don't think it was.) Zinchenko is booked for catching Dani Olmo with his hand in his face, scratching him inadvertently with a finger nail.
RB Leipzig's free-kick comes to naught.
11 min Man City 0 RB Leipzig 0
Ake and Ruben Dias step up to catch Andre Silva offside barely five yards into the City half as Angelino hits it obver the top. Could be a productive tactic.
9 min Man City 0 RB Leipzig 0
De Bruyne spins a pass down the right from the inside-right channel. A couple of step-overs from Mahrez do not bedazzle Angelino, his former City team-mate, who watches the ball not the blurry feet and blocks the cross when it eventually comes from Mahrez's right foot, his swinger.
7 min Man City 0 RB Leipzig 0
De Bruyne works a neat triangle down the right with Cancelo and Mahrez but when he tries to hit an early cross first-time Mukiele blocks it out back to him and his second effort gets no deeper into the box.
5 min Man City 0 RB Leipzig 0
Adams, the USA defensive midfielder blocks Rodrigo's thumping interception with his face and splits his lip. Needs treatment.
3 min Man City 0 RB Leipzig 0
Cancelo at right-back is fouled as he tries to drive up the right. City free-kick on halfway and they work it to the left, back to the right then hit the big diagonal for Zinchenko but Klostermann stops him linking up with Grealish who is, indeed, on the left.
I min Man City 0 RB Leipzig 0
BT Sport has Mahrez on the left and Grealish, making his Champions League debut, on the right - or perhaps the graphics are driven by Uefa. But one would think it would be t'other way round.
Leipzig kick off, attacking from right to left and they work it up to Angelino bombing down the left and he whips in a cross that Nkunku can only reach with his knee as Ake raised his foot and caught him but the referee sees nothing punishable in that.
Out come the teams
Leipzig's kit is made from London Underground seat covers, Piccadilly Line, circa 1988.
For the first time this season - it's that time again
Les grandes équipes
Ils sont les meilleurs
Sie sind die besten
These are the champions
Stones is injured
Apparently picked up on England duty, according to Pep Guardiola who says nothing else of interest as Matt Smith tries to extract blood from a stone.
Phil Foden returns, too, but on the bench
Manchester City Ederson; Cancelo, Dias (C), Ake, Zinchenko; Rodrigo, De Bruyne, Bernardo; Grealish, Torres, Mahrez.
Substitutes Carson, Walker, Sterling, Gundogan, Jesus, Fernandinho, Foden, Palmer, Slicker, Lavia.
RB Leipzig Gulacsi; Klostermann, Orban, Mukiele, Angelino; Laimer, Adams; Olmo, Forsberg, Nkunku; Andre Silva.
Substitutes Martinez, Simakan, Haidara, Henrichs, Szoboszlai, Brobbey, Moriba, Gvardiol, Kampl, Poulsen,
Referee Serdar Gozubuyuk (Netherlands)
Exclusive: Gundogan promoted to vice-captain
By Mike McGrath
Ilkay Gundogan has been promoted to Manchester City vice-captain this season following a vote by Pep Guardiola’s players and backroom staff this week.
The Germany midfielder, 30, has skippered City in their last three matches and succeeds Kevin De Bruyne in taking the armband when Fernandinho is not on the pitch for the Premier League champions. Ruben Dias is now third captain and De Bruyne next in line.
Guardiola has allowed his players and staff to decide on their captain since Vincent Kompany’s departure, which resulted in David Silva being elected.
Silva’s departure to Real Sociedad in the summer of 2020 meant Fernandinho was their skipper last season when they reclaimed the title from Liverpool, although the Brazilian was not selected for the Champions League final and De Bruyne led the team out in Porto against Chelsea.
Fernandinho, 36, agreed a contract extension at the Etihad Stadium for this season and was seen among players as their natural leader after eight years at the club. Gundogan’s standing has risen in the last year when he played a key role in the title win, top-scoring with 17 goals with goals at vital times.
Dias has also been a leader in defence following his £65.2million move from Benfica just under a year ago. The Portugal centre-back settled in immediately and his impact saw him voted Football Writers’ Association player of the year.
De Bruyne is still regarded among the leaders among the senior players in Guardiola’s squad, with the Belgium midfielder limited to 11 minutes this season after ankle-ligament damage suffered at the European Championships.
He was on the bench at the weekend in the victory over Leicester City after missing the 5-0 wins over Norwich City and Arsenal through injury.
Guardiola revealed two years ago that the captain would be voted for by players and staff, following Kompany’s 11 years at the club.
Leipzig stick with Forsberg and Silva up front
— RB Leipzig (@RBLeipzig) September 15, 2021
RB Leipzig are not what they were
Or, put more charitably, the Bundesliga runners-up are a team in transition having lost manager Julian Nagelsmann, captain Marcel Sabitzer and the league's best defender, Dayot Upamecano, to Bayern Munich and Ibrahim Konate to Liverpool. They brought in more than £100m in fees and compensation and have invested shrewdly in the rejuvenated Andre Silva and the precociously gifted Ilaix Moriba as well as a couple of sound defenders in Mohamed Simakan and Benjamin Henrichs but they are going to take time to settle, time new manager Jesse Marsch, from Wisconsin, brought over from RB Salzburg, might not have following three defeats in their opening four Bundesliga games including a 4-1 trouncing by Bayern at home at the weekend.
Kevin De Bruyne starts for City
Your #UCL starting XI for tonight! 💪
XI | Ederson, Cancelo, Dias (C), Ake, Zinchenko, Rodrigo, De Bruyne, Bernardo, Grealish, Torres, Mahrez.
SUB | Carson, Slicker, Walker, Sterling, Gundogan, Jesus, Fernandinho, Foden, Palmer, Lavia.
🔷 #ManCity | https://t.co/axa0klD5re pic.twitter.com/EWdOPGnE1h
— Manchester City (@ManCity) September 15, 2021
Guardiola faces same old questions as City begin sixth quest
By Luke Edwards
As the questions came, Pep Guardiola remained polite, even if he had heard most of them before.
On Wednesday night, he sets out for his sixth attempt to win the Champions League for Manchester City. He has been asked variations of the same questions every September, October, November and December. There were the usual array of quizzical looks as he listened, the occasional rubbing of his head and face as though to keep himself sharp, and one head-in-hands moment when he again had to deny he had said he was definitely going to leave City in 2023. Reaching the final in May has not changed the narrative much because the ambition to win European football’s most prestigious competition has not been realised.
The expectation remains the same, so, inevitably, the questions asked to manager and player before they launch their latest European campaign continue to be asked.
For Spanish midfielder Rodri – Do the club need to win the Champions League to be considered an elite club? Do you have unfinished business in this competition after going so close last season? Will Jack Grealish help you make the next step (winning the final) maybe?
He was asked other things, too, including how long it had taken him to recover from the devastation of defeat by Chelsea. He had “three s--- days, when he could not talk to family and friends about it”, which sounded fair enough. His other replies can be condensed: “Winning the Champions League is in our heads … It is a dream of ours, but it is not compulsory.”
“Jack does not have a lot of European experience, but everyone can see his quality and he has played lots of international football …”
“I would sign right now if it meant we would get into another final … but we have to go step by step, starting against Leipzig and then getting out of the group.”
City do have a tougher-looking group this year. Leipzig may have sold most of the key players who got them to the semi-final in 2020, but they knocked Manchester United out in the group stage last year before losing to Liverpool in the round of 16. And with Paris St-Germain, who most people would consider – along with City – to be favourites to be crowned champions next May, also in Group A, as well as Brugge, it will not be straightforward to make the knockout rounds. City have managed that every season since Guardiola arrived in 2016, reaching the round of 16 in his first season, the quarter-finals three years running and then a first final last time around.
He was asked if his team were better prepared to win after making that final and whether his desire was as great now as it was when he started at Barcelona. There was also a nice one about whether teams have to go through the adversity of losing games like the ones against Lyon (quarter-final 2020) and Chelsea in order to win the big prizes. He said they probably did, while pointing out that they had a good run last year: “Thirteen games, won 11, drew one and lost one” but “people still say that is a failure, so we have a desire to do better.”
He made sure to stress that this was the start of a new competition and they would “try to win the first game”, that the “group stages are difficult” so they “ have to fight and prove they deserve to be in the next stages”. It was put to him that people still say, after five years of lifting domestic trophies, that he has to win the Champions League for his time at City to truly be deemed a success. Guardiola smiled and shrugged. “I accept that, every year is the same,” he said. “If I win the Champions League, I will be happy for the club. If not, we are not going to do it so … after you can judge whether my career is a success or not.
“I don’t know, I cannot answer this question. Every single day I try to do my best and people can judge my job how I judge my players and how incredible they have done the last four or five years.”
Here we go again. First up, Leipzig.
Team details (probable)
Manchester City (4-3-3): Ederson, Walker, Dias, Laporte, Cancelo, Rodri, Gundogan, Bernardo, Mahrez, Sterling, Grealish.
RB Leipzig (4-2-3-1): Gulacsi; Gvardiol, Simakin, Orban, Mukiele; Kampl, Laimer; Nkunku, Olmo, Szoboszlai; Silva.