Manchester City blinded the night with possibility, arguably their finest performance of the season on Kevin De Bruyne’s first outing for two months. That does not feel hugely coincidental.
City won the game in vintage fashion, registering a shot every three minutes before half-time and with the points sealed quickly, owing to their sheer relentlessness against a Shakhtar Donetsk team who ended their long unbeaten run here last December.
De Bruyne is feeling his way back in after knee ligament trouble but his inclusion, that aura in midfield, enhanced those around him. David Silva ran the game and scored the opening goal as Guardiola took them to the top of Group F. He and his staff looked exceptionally calm in the mouth of the tunnel afterwards. A commanding win completed so thrillingly.
‘Our first half was incredible – the best first half we’ve played over the last three seasons,’ Guardiola said. ‘We were under pressure after Lyon. We can control our destiny now.
‘We created a lot and missed a lot of clear, clear chances. You have to be more clinical. You don’t get this many at the top level. Today is a time to be so happy that we played with that personality. It’s an incredible, amazing result.’
As Guardiola said, the only blot was their finishing, because this really could have ended up as anything. It was fairly astonishing quite how many times that ruthless streak deserted their fine array of attackers. Imagine if they were truly dead-eyed inside the box. The woodwork was struck on three occasions.
City are still improving, still clicking into gear, and the shock defeat by Lyon feels like a blip rather than anything endemic in the Champions League.
There is somewhat of an ongoing complex surrounding the competition though. Guardiola has been at pains to repeatedly point out that City are simply not ready to lift it and even claimed that – to his mind – not everybody around the club is pulling in the same direction in Europe. The fans, 825 of whom were in Ukraine on Tuesday night, were heavily implicated in that given their rocky relationship with UEFA.
All the conjecture should be insignificant to a group of players who might even be slicker than they were last season, as hard as that is to believe. Their defending is rugged too and Guardiola revealed he cannot see a more complete left-sided central defender than Aymeric Laporte, who netted his second of the season.
Shakhtar Donetsk (4-4-2): Pyatov 6; Matviyenko 6, Kryvtsov 6, Rakitsky 6, Ismaily 6.5; Wellington 6.5 (Bolbat 69, 6), Stepaneko 6.5, Maycon 6.5, Fernando 7 (Dentinho 84); Kovalenko 6.5 (Alan 62, 6), Moraes 6
Subs not used: Shevchenko, Butko, Khocholava, Kayode
Manager: Paulo Fonseca 6
Man City (4-3-3): Ederson 7; Stones 7 (Walker 80), Otamendi 6.5, Laporte 7.5, Mendy 7; Fernandinho 7.5, De Bruyne 7 (B Silva 69, 7), D Silva 8.5; Mahrez 7, Jesus 7 (Foden 87), Sterling 7.5
Subs not used: Muric, Kompany, Aguero, Sane
Manager: Pep Guardiola 7
Referee: Carlos Del Cerro (ESP) 6
They are in a stronger position to have a real tilt at several cup competitions as well as attempt to defend their title. One glance at their bench tells you that, with Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane rested and remaining on the bench such was City’s dominance. They were not required.
Bernardo Silva, potentially their most potent attacking threat so far this term, watched with his coat on until scoring in stunning fashion 86 seconds after coming on with 21 minutes left.
The squad are talking up the Champions League and for the likes of Silva, Aguero and Vincent Kompany, how many better opportunities will there be than this, with some of the continent’s elite seemingly in disarray?
They were irresistible in Kharkiv, playing with an arrogant swagger and accelerating at their own pace. Guardiola watched City keep the ball for almost the entire opening three minutes, where everyone had a touch during a move that ended with Silva’s hooked effort clipping the bar.
Raheem Sterling was menacing from the left. He had Mykola Matviyenko on toast only to see Gabriel Jesus fluff, as the striker did earlier when set free following Fernandinho’s pick pocketing expedition in midfield.
Chances piled up. Jesus – whose overall play was excellent – ought to have finished one of his two, while Riyad Mahrez was twice guilty as well.
The first came from a Shakhtar corner – and Matviyenko’s vicious shot blocked – as the visitors broke at electrifying pace. Sterling’s precise clipped ball on halfway saw Mahrez fly away but placed wide when through. The second, moments later, drew into Andriy Pyatov saving smartly down to his right.
Silva hit the woodwork again. Jesus flashed wide again. Sterling curled wide. Then Silva had enough, meeting a looping ball with his left boot and hammering City into the lead on the half hour.
‘David was the best player on the pitch,’ Guardiola added. ‘His levels are incredible. He does absolutely everything perfectly.’
Five minutes later it was two, Laporte incredibly alone 10 yards out from a set piece and simply stooping a header into the corner.
Shakhtar’s fans – 188 miles away from home in Donetsk – were left shrugging their shoulders and laughing. There is nothing else to do when met by a City in this kind of mood.
They did rally, created a few decent opportunities themselves and Junior Moraes headed just wide in search of one back but they were being toyed with. Ederson was only occasionally called into action.
Paulo Fonesca’s side gave this a go, attacked with heart, but could have been on the wrong side of a real pasting if City had more finesse in front of goal, with Sterling striking the bar in stoppage time.
It emerged that Hoffenheim’s LED technician, who operates the advertising hoardings, was actually bitten by a snake during the late show in Germany three weeks ago and with these consecutive away victories, Guardiola now has City rattling along in Europe.