The top of both Group A and Group F in the UEFA Champions League starts with one word, Manchester. The red and blue half of the city have both had a strong start to their European campaign with two wins from two, giving them a three-point lead over second place FC Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Basel 1893 respectively.
United faced a potentially tricky away tie to CSKA Moscow on Wednesday night but quick to get on the front foot. A shimmy from Frenchman Anthony Martial allowed him the time need to glide a cross onto the head of Romelu Lukaku who headed home after just four minutes.
The Red Devils continued to press and probe looking for their second and it was through Henrikh Mkhitaryan that they got their opportunity. A short dribble into the box was met with a clumsy challenge from the CSKA defender and the referee confidently pointed towards the spot.
Martial, who had started the game very brightly, stepped up and slotted the ball into the bottom right corner. Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev dived the wrong way and United’s lead was doubled before the 20-minute mark.
Having scored one and assisted one, Martial created another goal in the 27th minute. Another cross from the left wing was not dealt with and a well-timed bounce allowed Lukaku to get his toe on it and steer it towards goal. It was the Belgian’s ninth goal in eight games as he enjoys a fine start to his Manchester United career.
Mkhitaryan registered United’s fourth before the hour mark having followed in from a Martial effort and CSKA’s consolation goal in injury time was not enough to worry José Mourinho. The manager will be pleased with his side’s goalscoring ability having notched 28 in nine games this season. This lethal form has proven to be a strong blueprint for Champions League success and Mourinho will be looking to capitalise that in their next two fixtures against Benfica.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City meanwhile endured a more difficult night at the Etihad. City too had been in incredible goalscoring form and many were expecting another battering of visitors Shakhtar Donetsk, some bookmakers were even offering odds of 7/1 for a draw. The Ukrainian side though had different ideas.
Paulo Fonseca’s team started much brighter, using a high line that nullified City’s midfield whilst also took Sergio Agüero out of the game. The away side were determined in their plan of playing football and some neat one-twos in around the City area yielded chances.
A particular target for Shaktar was Kyle Walker as they repeatedly looked to get in behind him. Walker is a full back known for enjoying getting forward but this often left space on City’s right side and either John Stones or Fernandinho was required to drop deep and cover. It was the latter who along with David Silva were the only City players who played well in the first half. Everyone else looked sluggish and struggled to get going.
Similar to the Crystal Palace game the weekend before, City’s form in the first half was markedly different from their game in the second. There was more of an urgency to their play and the midfield began to move as a more cohesive unit. David Silva was seeing more of the ball and continued to produce moments of magic to create chances.
It was Silva who got the assist for City’s opener. Looking for runners on the edge of the Shakhtar box, the Spaniard looked up to see a free Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian had all the time in the world to pick his spot with a curled finish. The effort was De Bruyne’s first of the season and it relieved some tension from a quiet Etihad crowd.
Wary of a late equaliser which would perhaps have been a fair result, City continued to move forward. Leroy Sane was seeing plenty of the ball but his decision making was not always the best, often choosing to go for goal when a simple square ball was on and would have surely produced a goal.
The German did, however, give City a penalty. The winger took a tumble and from inside the stadium, it looked a very harsh decision. Sergio Agüero stepped up and saw his effort saved, continuing his less than stellar penalty record.
Raheem Sterling, Ilkay Gündogan, and Bernardo Silva were all introduced and it was Sterling and Silva who combined to double City’s advantage. Silva springs the offside trap before sliding the ball to the feet of Sterling. The Englishman hit his effort high and it just tapped the underside of the post on its way in.
The goal confirmed City’s three points but it was a patience-testing night for Guardiola as his side never really looked at their best.