MANCHESTER, England — Pep Guardiola stated it might be “easier” for Manchester City to defend their Champions League crown than win it for the primary time as his group ready to launch the defence of their title towards Red Star Belgrade, however even after beginning off with a 3-1 victory on the Etihad, it was clear that the trail to a second successive title will have its pitfalls.
If anybody at City — Guardiola included — really believed that profitable the Champions League the second time round will be simpler simply because their blue ribbons are on the trophy, the shock of falling behind to Osman Bukari’s Forty fifth-minute objective was a jolt of actuality.
“Going down 0-1 at half-time was nice,” Guardiola stated. “Because maybe we needed it after winning the Treble. We need to be champions who prove ourselves and we proved it.”
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The statistics may recommend in any other case, with City mounting 103 assaults in comparison with Red Star’s 13 and creating 37 goal-scoring probabilities versus three by the Serbian champions, however the numbers solely inform a part of the story.
Yes, this was an evening when City’s unbelievable depth and high quality got here to the fore as Guardiola’s aspect emerged as victors after two Julián Álvarez targets and a late Rodri strike cancelled out Bukari’s shock first-half opener for Red Star to make it 25 wins and two attracts because the Etihad final witnessed a Champions League dwelling defeat in September 2018.
But it was definitely not straightforward for City and their failure to transform so most of the probabilities they created may return to hang-out them towards stronger opponents.
Red Star might have gained as many European Cups as City, having lifted the trophy for the one and solely time again in 1991, however Barak Bachar’s group are usually not more likely to relive the membership’s most interesting hour this season or anytime quickly.
Yet regardless of their standing as Champions League minnows, Red Star’s spirited and fearless method to their opening fixture in Group G ought to serve a signpost as to what lies forward for City this season.
“We tried to be brave, tried to fight,” coach Bachar stated. “But the way they move the ball is amazing. We can look ourselves in the mirror, though, and say that we had the bravery to face this great team.”
The Champions League poses totally different challenges than City face within the Premier League. In Europe, opponents will play with better ambition and whereas that may be a high-risk technique towards a aspect as ruthless as City, it may well additionally trigger issues for even the most effective groups if they aren’t totally targeted on the duty in entrance of them.
Red Star got confidence and perception by the array of first-half saves made by goalkeeper Omri Glazer — the Israel worldwide made six essential stops earlier than half-time — and it laid the platform for Bukari to place them forward with a objective that given by VAR after initially being flagged offside by the assistant referee.
Having been in an identical place towards West Ham United on the weekend earlier than happening to win 3-1, Guardiola stated that his half-time group discuss was a repeat of handle on the London Stadium.
“We were playing really well in the last two games, but we missed clear chances and were struggling a bit,” he stated. “So we said be strong in your head and keep going, and we did it.”
Alvarez’s equaliser lower than two minutes into the second half banished City’s nervous pressure and put them again on the right track for victory, however it wanted a mistake by Glazer, when he missed Alvarez’s free kick with a mis-directed punch, to present City the lead on 60 minutes.
From that time on, a City win was at all times the doubtless final result however, regardless of their dominance, there’s something lacking from the aspect which gained the Treble final season.
Some points are apparent. Ilkay Gündogan has left the membership for Barcelona, whereas Kevin De Bruyne, Mateo Kovacic, John Stones and Jack Grealish are all sidelined because of harm. And it’s nonetheless early within the season, a time when no one expects any prime group to be on the absolute peak.
But though City have began the marketing campaign by profitable each recreation they’ve performed thus far, they’ve but to return up towards a probable rival, so their true standing is tough to gauge.
Guardiola is correct, although. Winning the Champions League once more will be simpler for City within the sense that the burden of expectancy and even desperation has been lifted by final June’s success in beating Internazionale in Istanbul.
But on the pitch, the duty will be as tough as ever and so they can thank Red Star for delivering that vital reminder.