Manchester City beat Steaua Bucharest 1-0 (6-0) to qualify for the group stages of the UEFA Champions League. Pep Guardiola fielded a weakened eleven as he aimed to ensure City’s qualification to the group stages for a sixth successive season.
On a night that was overshadowed by the future of England goalkeeper Joe Hart, Manchester City ensured professionalism shone through as they claimed a 1-0 victory over Steaua Bucharest to keep Pep Guardiola’s 100% winning start to his City career.
Much of the pre-match speculation surrounded Joe Hart as the England international’s future remains in jeopardy at the club. Guardiola took the decision to drop the England international for City’s previous three games but this time it was the turn of Willy Caballero to miss out in the Manchester City goal.
The second leg of the already concluded contest was a shadow on the first. Fox Sports often referred to the contest as a testimonial game for Joe Hart, and it certainly had the feel of one. Guardiola made a total of eight changes to the side that started the game against Stoke just four days previously with John Stones, Aleksandr Kolarov and Jesus Navas the only players to survive Guardiola’s tactical refresh.
The game kicked-off in very slow fashion as City comfortably kept the ball with the sense of a training session looming around the Etihad Stadium. A new look midfield of Fernando, Yaya Toure, and Fabian Delph struggled to maintain the intensity shown by City at Stoke just a few short days previously. Nonetheless, City were never really troubled throughout the game as Steaua were content to sit deep and invite City onto them.
With Joe Hart being named captain the fans applauded every touch the goalkeeper made with the chorus’ of chants loudly sang by the City faithful. The first-half closed with almost no chances at either end worth mentioning. Defensively City looked secure while Kelechi Iheanacho looked dangerous as he attempted to prove his worth on the big stage once again.
Shortly after the half-time interval, City took the lead through Fabian Delph. Some smart play by Iheanacho and Navas seen Delph presented with a clear chance just eight yards out. Delph’s header from Navas’ cross proved to be decisive as he fired the ball into the bottom corner to give City the lead on the night. Not long after Guardiola made changes that proved to be first appearances for two more City youngsters. Angelino and local boy Tosin Adarabioyo came on for their home debut’s – much to the fans delight.
The victory wouldn’t be without an element of loss as Kelechi Iheanacho pulled up as he went through on goal. A sense of worry surrounded the Etihad as the Steaua players rushed towards Iheanacho and attempted to prevent him from swallowing his tongue. Thankfully, it was nothing too serious as Iheanacho had pulled a muscle in his calf. The Nigerian’s fall made the situation look a lot worse than the reality.
The final whistle blew, and City had maintained their 100% winning start to the season. The spotlight fell on Joe Hart who incredibly thanked the entire stadium for their support and applauded the fans as he left the field of play. He went on to give an interview with BT Sport where he informed everyone that he had no issue with Guardiola and can only speak highly of the Spaniard.
- Joe Hart 10/10 – 16 touches, 16 successful passes. His final game as a City player. Fitting and legendary.
- Pablo Maffeo 8/10 – He impresses more and more everytime he plays. Solid defensively and very committed.
- John Stones 8.5/10 – Once again, not put a foot out of place. Only Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany have settled into life at Manchester City better than John Stones has done.
- Aleksandr Kolarov 8/10 – Proving everyone wrong with every game that goes by. A revelation.
- Gael Clichy 7/10 – Not much involvement for Clichy tonight but once again, very consistent.
- Yaya Toure 6/10 – The Ivorian did not influence a lot but kept it simple and easy.
- Fernando 6/10 – Very secure but wasn’t tested by any means. Certainly not a Guardiola player.
- Fabian Delph 7/10 – Scored the winner but again just not a Guardiola player or the standard of player needed for where City want to be.
- Nolito 7.5/10 – It’s easy to see why Guardiola was so keen to snap the Spaniard up at £13.5million. A team-player with an end product.
- Jesus Navas 5.5/10 – Awful again. Assisted Delph’s goal but lacks so much end product. His 150th game for City last night and he’s only scored eight times.
- Kelechi Iheanacho 7/10 – Not his best game by any means but Iheanacho worked hard to try to find an opening before his game being cut short due to injury.