On a wet Tuesday night at the Etihad, Manchester City laboured to a 1-0 win against Feyenoord to secure top spot in Group F. But what did we learn from this encounter?
Fernandinho is key
Having made 17 appearances so far this season for City, the Brazilian was given a well-earned rest as he was named amongst the substitutes on Tuesday night. What became apparent as the contest went on was how much City missed their midfield enforcer. City didn’t manage to control the middle of the park quite like they have in games this season as they missed Fernandinho’s incisive passes. At times they also looked exposed at the back due to the absence of Fernandinho’s defensive presence.
Sterling’s new lease of life under Pep
So far this season, Raheem Sterling has been simply fantastic. Having struggled for form since his controversial move from Liverpool in 2015, Sterling has now scored 11 goals in 17 appearances this term. He has already equalled his tally from his first season at City and has surpassed his tally from last season; we’re only in November. Scorer of the only goal on Tuesday, Sterling is excelling in Pep’s free flowing attack and looks like he’ll only get better.
City play better on the counter
Like in a few homes games this season, City dominated possession (76% against Feyenoord) but created few meaningful chances. The problem seems to occur when teams go to the Etihad and set up defensively. The organised mass of bodies behind the ball prevents City from using their pace to exploit out of position defenders. This forces City to pick out pin-point through balls that don’t always come off. Guardiola needs to find a way for City to utilise the pace and directness of De Bruyne, Sterling and co at home, as they so often do on their travels (e.g. 4-2 win in Naples).
Feyenoord can compete
Although they are now condemned to finishing dead last in Group F, Feyenoord showed enough to suggest that they can be competitive in Europe in the future. The young attacking talents of Boëtius and Larsson caused City problems at times, while defensively Feyenoord looked a lot sounder then they did in match day one’s reverse fixture. However, their participation in Europe next season is by no means guaranteed, as they currently occupy 7th position in the Eredivisie.
City are genuine Champions League contenders
It is the sign of Champions to get a result when not playing well, and on Tuesday night City did just that. While this was one of City’s least eye-catching performances of the season, the Blues still had enough quality to grab a winner and they still looked defensively solid without both first choice centre backs. With such a performance in seasons’ gone by, City would have found a way to draw or even lose this game. No longer do City have to perform brilliantly in Europe to get a result.