If this had been any other European tie played over the last 57 years, Pep Guardiola’s side would be home and hosed. Instead, Sporting Clube de Portugal could force extra-time and penalties with a 5-0 win at the Etihad three weeks from now. Something about this display of brute attacking brilliance and absolute superiority at the Estadio Jose Alvalade tells you City will be all right.
A place in the Champions League quarter-finals is all but assured after five unanswered goals over Portugal’s champions, with two from local boy Bernardo Silva (pictured).
The crowd at the Alvalade had started the evening by loudly whistling whenever he, Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo or Ederson – all Benfica players at one point in their careers – touched the ball, but City beat that hostility out of them.
It was on this ground, during the Champions League ‘mini-tournament’ in Lisbon two summers ago, that City’s journey came to a sudden and surprise end against Olympique Lyonnais.
They were expected to go all the way then, just as they are now, and Guardiola has learned being favourites counts for little in this competition. It counts for something, though, and City look more than deserving of that status.
Guardiola’s side barely took any time in letting the gulf in quality tell, with the ball in Sporting’s net after only seven minutes, though they were made to wait a little longer to actually take the lead.
A lengthy VAR check followed Riyad Mahrez’s rolled finish into a half-unguarded net, as Kevin De Bruyne had appeared to assist him from an offside position after Phil Foden’s shot was saved by Antonio Adan. With the flag raised, both sets of players lined up in formation for a goal-kick and stood there for nearly two minutes, waiting for the check to be completed.
Sporting had glimpses of City’s goalmouth before this game was taken away from them but they were just that, glimpses. Their game-plan under their promising young coach Ruben Amorim – to defend deep and break at speed – was either spoiled by loose passes or expertly shut down. And at the other end, City were regularly finding gaps in Portugal’s
The second, though, came from a set-piece. It was Bernardo’s first of the night and it was spectacular, driven hard and on the half-volley after Mahrez’s deep corner was headed high up into the air by Rodri.
Bernardo caught the bouncing ball perfectly, and as if the mechanics of the strike were not already aesthetically pleasing, it deflected in off the underside of the ’bar.
Foden added a third, tapping Mahrez’s low cross in at close range after former Liverpool defender Sebastian Coates missed a challenge.
When Bernardo scored the fourth a minute before the break, converting Raheem Sterling’s pull-back from the byline, it was the first time any side has led an away game by four goals or more at half-time in the Champions League knockout stages.
Sporting would only lose the second half 1-0.
Bernardo believed he had silenced the Alvalade once and for all with his first Champions League hat-trick when play resumed, with a glancing header on De Bruyne’s chip to the far post, but another VAR check ruled out his third. It was mercifully shorter this time, at least.
It was instead left to Sterling to put this two-legged tie beyond any
doubt after just 58 minutes of play, firing
into the top right-hand corner from around 25 yards. The goal was Sterling’s 127th for City.