It was a pleasure to see Manchester City on a display of how the game they can play surely must make their opponent feel terribly inferior. Club Brugge had started the competition undefeated until they ran into a team that made this third Group A match a match. Philippe Clement’s side was, simply put, the way many can: reduced to extras in the city’s dazzling spectacle.
Perhaps most impressive beyond the individual flourishes (Phil Foden, in particular, in the foreground) was the concerted hunger in a team that kept looking for the ball and more goals even as it came up three after just 53 minutes through the end of Kyle Walker with dead eyes. .
Pep Guardiola was so relaxed that he was able to eliminate Foden and Kevin De Bruyne just after the hour – a fitting summary of just how impressive City were in a Jan Breydelstadion, packed and raucous for this early afternoon. It took three minutes for those who came in at this point to create a fourth when Raheem Sterling skidded down the left and passed the ball for Cole Palmer, a 19-year-old enjoying a second Champions League appearance, to sweetly sweep from 18 yards for a first in the competition.
Jack Grealish dived into the penalty area and fell to Clinton Mata in the opening act of a contest; the forward thought it should have been a penalty. Istvan Kovacs, the referee, had a clear vision and rejected the appeal. Grealish then launched Simon Mignolet to find the net, but this time Kovacs missed a foul, to push Mata.
Moments later, the number 10 made a pass with his chest, rolled the ball to a superimposed Bernardo Silva, but when he delivered no teammate could finish.
This was ominous on the part of City, who can be a monster when approaching high speed. An offside hit from Rodri and Foden finding the side net continued to gain momentum. In its pristine white fringe, the visitors were a buzz of invention, Rodri scooping balls around and across the lawn, while Foden’s sense of geometry enchanted the hosts.
There was an impressive moment when Foden, in traffic, turned and brushed past João Cancelo on the left that sent Brugge’s rear guard slipping away, summing up the quality of City. Toothless was a fair characterization of Clement’s men, and when Mata illegally armed the effervescent Silva he was the embodiment of another: frustration. Exactly the same emotion was felt by the bewildered De Bruyne when Silva pushed him close to the penalty spot only to have him docilely unload directly at Mignolet.
The 11 men dominating their hosts formed as close to Guardiola’s current first XI as the serial shuffler could send, with Foden, the nominal number 9, approaching from a Grealish center, before the youngster created a clever starter. . Returning to the middle, a diagonal found Cancelo and after an ingenious check with his chest, the left-back slipped past a hurrying Mignolet.
Sadly, the Portuguese celebration was marred by the missiles that were launched at him, but from here City dazzled, a bewildering proposal of runs and passes at an angle. One illustration came in a rat-a-tat percussion move in which Rodri hit Silva, who instantly relayed to Walker, whose ball attempt was repelled only at the last moment.
At the other extreme, Eduard Sobel’s break forced Ruben Dias to cut a corner in a rare foray into Bruges. This was followed a little later by a second installment from the opposite side, which resulted in nothing.
And now came the second from City. Mahrez, silent so far, taunted Stanley Nsoki with his feet dancing inside the area, No. 4 took the bait and knocked him down. The Algerian rose and coldly beat Mignolet from the spot, to the goalkeeper’s right, before Foden finished his 45-minute masterclass by diving, pirouetting and then sliding the ball towards Mahrez, who should have done 3- 0.
The second half was a question of how many more City could score given their hunger. Total control of the ball and rhythm continued. De Bruyne lifted a cross from the left, Brugge took it from him. Cancelo tried to feed Foden and the Belgian team, once again, almost cleared. Witches were constantly being beaten up by those in white shirts who were resembling ghosts that they could never catch.
The third came through a sequence that was De Bruyne-Mahrez-De Bruyne, whose deft pass was crushed by a jubilant Walker. By the final whistle, Sterling had turned down the chance to make it 5-0 and Hans Vanaken seized a late consolation before Mahrez scored one more for City.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism