Manchester City took a huge step towards qualifying for the Champions League quarter-finals with a thumping 5-0 against Sporting CP on Tuesday.
Pep Guardiola’s side flew out of the traps in the first-leg of their round of 16 tie against the Portuguese champions, with Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva putting City 2-0 up inside 20 minutes.
A second Bernardo goal plus strikes from Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling sealed the result, and much of the post-match talk is rightfully centered around the wonderful efforts from Bernardo and Sterling.
Bernardo’s first of the evening was an extraordinary half-volleyed effort, a something-out-of-nothing goal that demands you endlessly watch it on repeat to marvel at the ludicrous technique. The fact that it smacked off the underside of the crossbar made it all the more aesthetically pleasing.
Not one to be upstaged, Sterling scored City’s fifth with a sumptuous curling effort into the top corner, a strike even better than his recent goal against Norwich.
Both goals were fantastic, although in the BT Sport studio there were disagreements about which was better.
“I prefer the Raheem one – it had a bit more spin, it was further out,” Owen Hargreaves said of the England star’s strike, while Rio Ferdinand labeled Bernardo’s effort “breathtaking.”
The debate about which was better could go on for weeks, but the goals highlighted the difference in City’s performance in each half.
City scored four goals before half-time yet, surprisingly, they did not control proceedings in their usual manner. At 2-0, Sporting enjoyed a brief resurgence and, throughout the half, the hosts looked dangerous whenever they broke forward.
“I honestly think the first half we lost some easy balls and gave them opportunities to counter,” man of the match Bernardo said after the game.
Perhaps unexpectedly for a coach whose team had just won 5-0 away from home, Guardiola echoed those sentiments.
“Some players underperformed,” he said. “We lost easy balls, but today we were so clinical. Every time we arrived [in the Sporting penalty area] in the first 20 minutes, we scored. difference [between the performances] is not 0-5. They attack with lots of players and we punish them with counters.
“The players know me, we can do better. A few players didn’t do what they have to do in the build-up.”
Playing on the counter meant City lacked their usual control and Bernardo’s strike was in keeping with this wild feel. Pouncing on a stray clearance, the Portugal international surged onto the ball and scored spectacularly.
It was a wild, draw-dropping moment, admittedly pulled off with impeccable technique and control, but also visceral and not in-keeping with City’s usually calm style.
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Sterling’s curled effort early in the second half represented a calmer, more controlling City. His goal from him was stripped of the earlier chaos, without an ounce of luck or good fortune involved in its execution. As soon as the ball left his right boot everyone knew where it was going – a moment of the predictable excellence that has come to typify this City side.
That isn’t to say that it was better than Bernardo’s from a technical perspective – we are unlikely to see a tougher strike pulled off this season – but that it encapsulated City returning to their normal efficient selves.
Guardiola is of course an attacking coach, but his primary aims in any game are to keep the ball and to prevent counter-attacks. City did neither in the first half, but excelled at both in the second; it just so happens that they were 4-0 up by that point.
Both Bernardo’s and Sterling’s goals were incredible while highlighting the shift in City’s approach that aligned with their manager’s demands..
Do you agree with Pep Guardiola’s assessment of City’s performance? Follow our City Is Ours writer Alex Brotherton on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.