Pep Guardiola rues injuries but Manchester City's European juggernaut powers on

Manchester City's Argentinian striker #19 Julian Alvarez (R) celebrates with Phil Foden

Manchester City ended up easing to victory in their first Champions League match since winning their European crown, although the win came at a cost, with Bernardo Silva adding to the injury concerns Pep Guardiola currently faces.

Guardiola’s team ended the match with Stefan Ortega, Scott Carson (his reserve goalkeepers) and Josko Gvardiol as his unused substitutes, such is his injury list at the moment. Bernardo picked up a muscle problem just before the break and will miss the game against Nottingham Forest at the weekend.

He joins Kevin De Bruyne, John Stones, Mateo Kovacic and Jack Grealish in the treatment room, although City’s winning machine shows no sign of stopping. Like they did against West Ham at the weekend, Guardiola’s team fell behind but turned the match around in the second half.

Julián Álvarez scored twice and Rodri added another after Red Star had scented a famous victory, scoring just after Bernardo hobbled off. Guardiola has mounting injury concerns but his squad, however short on numbers, find a way to win.

“We are in trouble but it is what it is,” said Guardiola. “When we have five important players – really really important players – injured, to sustain that for a long time will be difficult.

“But we cannot have the salaries, the budgets, the transfers for having 55 players. It would be chaos for the clubs and would be bankrupt. Sometimes it happens. It’s a long time for Kevin, John still didn’t play, needs a bit longer.

“Maybe Kova [Kovacic] is coming back, Jack maybe one week, 10 days will be there but after needs to make the conditions. I prefer to have everyone, but for the players we have we go for it, we have this mentality to go there which it’s good.”

There were 101 days between winning the Treble and returning to action in the competition they craved so much, and it was their 37 shots on goal that saw them through against Red Star. Omri Glazer, the Red Star keeper, was equal to many of them but eventually sliced a punch into his own net for Alvarez’s second goal.

Álvarez had cancelled out Osman Bukari’s opener when Red Star had sprung the offside trap and took a shock lead. The calls for Var to award the goal were led by the boisterous club analysts in the press box, who were told to calm down but could not contain their delight taking the lead against the European champions.

Despite the goal, there was a sense that City’s time would come and eventually it did. Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan have gone but the winning continues. “The show goes on,” as Kyle Walker said when he signed a new deal last week. Their incredible run at the Etihad now stands at 27 unbeaten in Champions League games, most of those being wins.

City’s formidable record at home in the Champions League meant the odds were stacked against Red Star. That last defeat at the Etihad in Europe’s top competition came five years ago to the day, when they were defeated by a Lyon team containing Maxwel Cornet and Memphis Depay.

“At the end, going in at half-time 1-0 down after what we’ve done, that’s nice, after winning the Treble we need to be the type of champions who prove ourselves that we are able to make a comeback,” said Guardiola.

“In this situation it’s nice to prove it, both games we played incredible and immediately at the start of the second half. We have things to improve in general but that’s really, really good.”

Guardiola’s goalscorers have thrived recently. Álvarez has taken up the position of Gundogan on the field, getting himself close to Erling Haaland in the No 10 role and adding striker-type goals. Many said he and Haaland would never play together but they have formed an effective partnership.

Manchester City's Julian Alvarez celebrates scoring their first goal
Julián Álvarez put in an excellent performance for City - Action Images/Jason Cairnduff

Rodri, meanwhile, has become one of the leaders in Guardiola’s squad after his winner in the Champions League final against Inter Milan.

“Julian is the same player, like [he] was last season. He won the World Cup with Argentina but that doesn’t mean you have to play all the time,” said Guardiola. “Last season we had Gundogan in that position, he was in incredible form. He is no longer here and Kevin is injured and we need players to be close to Erling, so we don’t put all the responsibility on the shoulders of Erling to score goals.

When asked about Rodri, Guardiola added: “He is the best. Hopefully he can be better, have a good mentality but he is an extraordinary holding midfielder, we are lucky the club signed him.

“He makes an extraordinary amount of games and now is one of the captains of the team. Defensively, offensively, the composure, reading the spaces, he is close to the box and is so dangerous. He loves to arrive in the final third.”

Next is Forest, who Guardiola joked have more European Cups than City. Even without their injured players, the show goes on and is likely to continue at the weekend.