Manchester City in cruise control as Champions League defence resumes

By Sports Desk February 13, 2024

Manchester City resumed their Champions League defence with a comfortable 3-1 win at FC Copenhagen on Tuesday.

Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva netted either side of an unexpected Magnus Mattson equaliser as City dominated a last-16 first leg they could have won far more convincingly.

Pep Guardiola’s side dominated in every aspect at the Danish capital’s famously atmospheric Parken Stadium and Phil Foden completed a deserved success late on.

With close to 80 per cent possession, the holders were hardly troubled and will be confident of wrapping up a place in the quarter-finals when the sides meet again in Manchester in three weeks.

The only real downside for City was the loss of Jack Grealish through injury in the first half.

Despite having almost complete control, one thing City could not do was silence the home fans.

As anticipated, Copenhagen’s raucous following produced an intimidating atmosphere and greeted every City attack with loud whistles and even a siren.

Yet it appeared to have no effect on City, who immediately imposed themselves and should have taken the lead when De Bruyne fluffed a header from a Nathan Ake cross.

Ruben Dias also forced a save from Kamil Grabara and Ake fired the rebound over, although a raised flag suggested neither might have counted.

Copenhagen, their rustiness amid Denmark’s long winter break evident, were struggling to live with City and it came as no surprise when De Bruyne hit his 11th-minute opener.

The Belgian, who has quickly eased back into gear after a long injury lay-off, timed his run onto a Foden pass superbly and finished clinically with a low shot.

City looked hungry for more and Erling Haaland was inches away from meeting a De Bruyne cross before a Silva ball was deflected onto the woodwork by Denis Vavro.

City suffered a blow when Grealish, making his first start in six games, was forced off after 21 minutes soon after a challenge from Diogo Goncalves but his replacement Jeremy Doku added more energy to City’s attack.

Within moments of coming on Doku set up Haaland for what would have been a spectacular goal with a volleyed cross but the Norwegian’s overhead kick flew over.

City looked capable of running up a huge score but remarkably found themselves level when Ederson gifted the hosts an equaliser on 34 minutes.

The goalkeeper passed straight to Mohamed Elyounoussi and, although the former Southampton forward’s shot was blocked, debutant Mattson followed up with a fine finish.

Mattson, a recent signing from NEC Nijmegen, almost added another soon after but blazed over.

The home fans were animated but their excitement was not to last.

Silva restored normal order before the break with a fine flicked finish after De Bruyne got the better of Mattson to pick out the Portuguese.

De Bruyne almost added to the lead early in the second half when he tested Grabara before Haaland headed tamely at the keeper and Foden had an effort deflected wide.

Grabara also pushed away a long-range Doku strike and Haaland was twice denied by the keeper in stoppage time before Foden wrapped up the win after exchanging passes with De Bruyne.

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  • Bernardo Silva: I went through many emotions from penalty miss to Wembley winner Bernardo Silva: I went through many emotions from penalty miss to Wembley winner

    Bernardo Silva admitted he had been through a range of emotions after bouncing back from his European penalty heartache with an FA Cup semi-final winner.

    The Portugal midfielder scored Manchester City’s late clincher as the holders ground out a hard-fought 1-0 win over Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday to book a return to the final.

    It came less than three days after he had badly fluffed his lines with a poor spot-kick as City were agonisingly knocked out of the Champions League by Real Madrid in a draining encounter on Wednesday.

    Silva released a lot of emotion in a vigorous celebration after his 84th-minute strike and he revealed that was culmination of a lot of factors.

    He said: “After a very frustrating week for all of us it’s good to get back on the winning side and qualify for another final and another chance to win a trophy. We’re happy.

    “Wednesday was a frustrating night for me. It was tough. First night, I didn’t sleep much. Second night, you sleep a bit better, the third night you sleep almost the whole night.

    “It is what it is. It’s football, it’s our profession and we have to deal with those emotions.

    “The way this team reacts is always really good. Once again we showed character and that no matter what happens, we stick together and go for it.”

    Silva – one of two City players to miss in the shootout loss along with Mateo Kovacic – was embarrassed as he chipped tamely into the hands of Real goalkeeper Andriy Lunin from the spot.

    He said that he had seen Lunin move early for the previous penalty, taken by Julian Alvarez, and felt striking down the middle would be a good idea.

    Silva said: “I was waiting, I wanted to be the second or the third penalty to see the reaction from the keeper in the first or the first two penalties.

    “And he moved early, that’s why I thought the middle was good because in moments of pressure the keepers, 99 per cent of the time, they move. But he chose not to move and fair play to him, well done.”

    Silva denied a theory that the delay to his penalty, caused by the ball needing to be retrieved from the crowd, had affected him mentally.

    He said: “For me, no. My decision was made. I was going shoot the penalty in the middle.”

    City showed the resolve of champions to hang in and edge out Chelsea, who dominated the tie at Wembley.

    The Londoners were left to rue wasting a host of chances, with misfiring striker Nicolas Jackson the prime culprit. They were also frustrated not to be awarded a penalty after a Cole Palmer free-kick struck the arm of Jack Grealish.

    Veteran defender Thiago Silva said: “I think it’s laughable. I don’t like to talk about the referees, especially after a defeat as it looks like an excuse, but I believe VAR could have sent the ref to the monitor.

    “If he goes to the monitor and decides not to give a pen, I’m fine with it, but go and see it.”

    Silva, 39, is out of contract at the end of the season and promised to reveal his future plans soon.

    The Brazilian said: “You are going to know in the coming days. I don’t want to say anything now after a defeat, I’m sad about the result, but sooner or later the news will come out.

    “I do have a decision made in my mind, but it’s not the moment to share it.”

  • Man City match-winner Bernardo Silva: FA ‘don’t care’ about players’ wellbeing Man City match-winner Bernardo Silva: FA ‘don’t care’ about players’ wellbeing

    Match-winner Bernardo Silva has accused the Football Association of not caring about the wellbeing of players over the scheduling of Manchester City’s FA Cup semi-final.

    Silva scored the late clincher as a weary-looking City ground out a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday to book a second-successive final appearance.

    Yet – after the game – manager Pep Guardiola hit out at the decision to make City play less than three days after they were taken to a penalty shootout in their draining Champions League quarter-final loss to Real Madrid.

    He contrasted this to the preparation time afforded to Sunday’s semi-finalists Manchester United and Coventry, neither of whom had midweek fixtures, and branded the situation “unacceptable”.

    Those sentiments were echoed by Silva, who felt City had been treated unfairly.

    The Portuguese said: “We didn’t play on a level field because the FA didn’t give us a chance to recover, which in my opinion is not reasonable at all.

    “I’m saying this because we won. If we didn’t win, I wouldn’t say it because I don’t like to find excuses, but I don’t think it’s acceptable we had to play (on Saturday).

    “It’s too much. We played 120 minutes less than three days (prior) and we had to play against a team that didn’t travel because they’re from London.

    “And they had five days waiting for us and thinking about our game. There’s no excuse for the game to not be Sunday. It’s not acceptable. For all of us as a team, that’s how we feel.

    “It looks like they don’t care because we’ve said it many times. It’s not about wanting to be favourites, it’s about health.”

    Silva feels there could be greater consideration given to the impact of European competitions on players when domestic fixtures are scheduled.

    He said: “I wasn’t fine at all. I’ll be honest, I was feeling my left hamstring and my right calf. This is not fair for Man City, for us.

    “I say Man City – maybe other clubs went through it. This is just our personal experience.

    “They have to pay more attention to these details. We represent England in these European competitions and it’s important for England, for this country, for other clubs to qualify for the Champions League, Europa League, Conference League. So they need to pay more attention.”

    The FA has not commented directly but its position on such matters is that the needs of the clubs, local authorities, police and broadcasters all need to be considered and balanced. It schedules all ties collaboratively.

    In this case, the matter is also complicated by Chelsea having a rearranged Premier League game against Arsenal next Tuesday.

  • Let’s protect the players – Mikel Arteta criticises scheduling after Arsenal win Let’s protect the players – Mikel Arteta criticises scheduling after Arsenal win

    Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta stood in unison with Manchester City counterpart Pep Guardiola in condemning the fixture schedule.

    Guardiola said it was “unacceptable” that his side had to play an FA Cup semi-final less than 72 hours after being in action in the Champions League on Wednesday night as they beat Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday tea-time.

    The Gunners’ plight was arguably worse as they were also in Europe on Wednesday night but had to travel back from Germany on Thursday following their Champions League exit to Bayern Munich.

    They made light of that quick turnaround as they beat Wolves 2-0 on Saturday to go back to the top of the Premier League before they play again on Tuesday night against Chelsea.

    “It’s not about us, Pep or myself, it’s about the well-being of the players,” Arteta said after Leandro Trossard and Martin Odegaard goals sent his side one point above City.

    “Especially when you are competing in European competition, everything has to be competed in the same way.

    “You cannot have a team that hasn’t played for seven days or three days before and has more recovery time and you have to play in the Premier League or the FA Cup.

    “It is not right. If you look at it any angle it’s not right. If you want to protect and you always talk about the players and the protagonists, let’s protect them and think about them and do everything we can to give them the maximum time so they can recover and they can maintain the show they put on every week.

    “We stayed in Munich, I think we had two hours sleep, wake up and we started to talk about Wolves first of all and then understand what we had to do to win the game.

    “The boys were unbelievable. You look at the amount of games we have played in the last few weeks, the type of games we have played and the attitude and the way they have run today is top.”

    It was a good recovery from the Gunners after a horror week where their title hopes were damaged by a 2-0 home defeat to Aston Villa last week before their Champions League exit in Munich.

    But they could be four points clear of City by the time Guardiola’s side next play as they try to wrestle control of a thrilling title race.

    Arteta added: “It was really good, I really liked the performance, the result, the clean sheet but also the way individually and a team they showed they still have a step forward to make.

    “We realised we want to be involved in big competitions, fighting for the Champions League, fighting for the Premier League, the level it requires, we have to do something special. You have to have that love to compete.”

    Wolves battled hard but are crippled by injuries, with the majority of their key attacking players sidelined.

    They are now six games without a win, but boss Gary O’Neil was proud.

    “I thought it was an incredible performance, it exceeded my expectation of what we were able to produce today,” he said.

    “We didn’t deserve to lose 2-0, losing 1-0 and not quite being able to break them down is probably as bad as it should have been for us.

    “We came up just short against one of the best teams in world football so there’s no disgrace in that.”

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