Manchester City sealed their place in Thursday’s draw for the UEFA Champions League Group Stage with a comfortable 1-0 victory over Steaua Bucharest on Wednesday night.
Pep Guardiola shuffled his pack, using a mixture of youth and experience for the second leg of a tie that was already effectively over as a contest following his side’s 5-0 win in Romania last week. Fabian Delph’s second half header maintained the Catalan’s 100% winning record as Blues’ boss but the night was most notable for the fact it was ostensibly Joe Hart’s final appearance in a City shirt.
James Cunliffe reflects on the night’s four main talking points…
Hart of the City
An emotional night dedicated to a City legend, last night’s spectacular atmosphere was a true testament to Joe Hart. Unable to ignore the City fans belting out his name, Hart showed his appreciation throughout the match and admitted after that it was impossible to not have a lump in his throat.
— BT Sport Football (@btsportfootball) August 24, 2016
Hart is adored by all City fans, no matter your opinion on Pep’s decision to let him go. Seeing him play for another club will be a weird day and one that I’m not looking forward to. City’s number one wears his heart on his sleeve and that’s why he’s so loved – the appreciation for last night’s captain was the least he deserved.
Hart’s passion has been unmatched at the club since he signed over 10 years ago and he will undoubtedly be missed. All I can say is…thanks for the memories and good luck for the future, you will never be forgotten.
City tireless under Guardiola
Pep’s tough training sessions and strict diet regime is already showing – the energy on the pitch has been a massive improvement from last season. Manuel Pellegrini’s teams were, at times, faulted for a lack of effort and that was our downfall in a lot of defeats. Now though, players know how ruthless Pep can be and cannot afford to not give 100%. I even saw Yaya Touré sprint back to make a sliding tackle last night!
Miles covered is an overlooked statistic for me and I think it’s really important. City ran nearly 10 more miles in the 4-1 win at Stoke at the weekend than they did when they lost 2-0 in the same fixture last season. I’m unsure what the exact figure was from last night’s match was but just from observing, you could sense that City look tireless under Guardiola.
Youngsters given a chance
The tie was as good as finished before kick-off but some of City’s youth prospects were handed the chance to impress and the signs were very encouraging. Pablo Maffeo started the match and the 19-year-old tipped to be the answer to City’s ageing right-back problem was very lively and looked quick to adapt to Guardiola’s unorthodox tactics.
On the hour mark, two more teens joined the Spaniard in a City side that had made eight changes from the weekend. Tosin Adarabioyo looked as classy and assured as John Stones at the back, while Angeliño provided width and plenty of dynamism down the left wing. It looks like Pep is willing to hand opportunities to City’s most promising talents and that alone will give them the inspiration to impress.
Stones and Kolarov impress once more
Having started in all four competitive games this season, Aleksandar Kolarov and John Stones look to be regulars for City under Pep. The unlikely centre-back pairing of the Serbian and the Englishman was a joy to watch. Neither of the two shied away from the ball and the pair were both so calm in possession.
Stones was thrown into the deep end at City and the way he has handled himself since has been truly impressive. The elegant defender looks to be a big part of Pep’s plans and this another faultless performance from the 22-year-old.
A lot of players have already improved under Guardiola and, more than anyone, Kolarov has come on leaps and bounds. The Serbian was positive, his confidence and wide passing range is getting the fans back on his side, and he was a big contender for man of the match last night. A big turnaround from the player he was last season.
Written by James Cunliffe
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