Manchester City are cruising in Group C, this second win giving Pep Guardiola’s team a maximum six points. Until Ilkay Gündogan’s goal Marseille had a glimmer of hope but, really, their visitors toyed with them throughout.
Gündogan’s goal came courtesy of the impressive Phil Foden. His cross was headed down by Raheem Sterling for Gündogan to make no mistake. City were as impressive in this match as they were uninspired in the weekend draw at West Ham, having previously convinced when beating Arsenal and Porto.
A further clue as to whether this is to be an enigma of a season from them will be offered at Sheffield United on Saturday. Guardiola referenced this uneven start that has also included a 5-2 home defeat by Leicester.
“We have to accept the criticism,” Guardiola said. “When you win it’s good but if you don’t people want to destroy everything. But it’s about the chairman [Khaldoon al-Mubarak] and everyone else understanding.
“Part of the criticism was right but you’ve got to accept it. It’s part of our job. It’s about where we’ve come from in the last month, with lack of preparation, injuries and Covid-19 but the Champions League is in a good place now. I’m sure we’re going to find that consistency.”
The manager was delighted with the manner of victory against Marseille. “We played really well – we didn’t concede much [many chances] and we were in control – patient and aggressive without the ball. I’m so satisfied with the performance and result, it’s always difficult to win away.”
Guardiola made five changes, the main one enforced owing to Sergio Agüero’s hamstring injury. Ferran Torres was fielded at No 9. City were sharp from kick-off, claiming three early corners. The second was swung in from the right by Kevin De Bruyne. Ruben Dias rose to meet the ball but headed over.
André Villa-Boas’s team were already being forced to defend as possession was pinged around them. City were as relentless when winning back the ball: Rodri offering an illustration in a crowd of white shirts, pressing quick, and suddenly Gündogan, Foden, Sterling, and De Bruyne were a blur of carousel passing.
The last thing, then, Marseille required was to gift City the opener. Yet when Valentin Rongier gave the ball to De Bruyne on the right wing this was what occurred. The latter slid in Torres and his close-range finish past Steve Mandanda was simple – this, the 600th goal of Guardiola’s tenure. “He’s not a striker so I say thank you for making the effort [to play there],” the manager said.
Moments later Rongier’s evening threatened to become nightmarish when he fouled Sterling – once more on City’s right. De Bruyne placed the free-kick between Mandanda and an arriving Aymeric Laporte: Marseille’s goalkeeper was grateful when the ball broke into his hands.
The home team’s main ploy was to beat the press, then pass out quick. Rongier was involved in one break but it foundered almost instantly. Yet as the second half began City were only a goal ahead – thus giving Marseille some hope of finding a way back. De Bruyne’s slipshod pass allowed Nemanja Radonjic to race along the left before Kyle Walker intervened, and now the home team enjoyed a first sustained passage of pressure near City’s area. This ended nearly as soon as it began but this was not what Guardiola wished to see. However it proved a blip as City returned to the keep-ball mode that is so tiring for the opposition.
Foden’s silky talent featured when he skipped past Hiroki Sakai and put in a near-post cross that a natural predator such as Agüero might have gambled on. Instead, Mandanda was unchallenged when gathering.
Now came a scare for City: Ederson seemed to fall asleep after Florian Thauvin unloaded from 20 yards. The keeper pulled his left hand away as if to leave, only for the ball to smack it, then the post: it was a lucky escape. It illuminated the danger of not having scored a second goal – Sterling went close but Jordan Amavi’s last-moment block denied him. Marseille had yet to tire and were throwing more bodies forward. Amavi fired in a low ball from the left and Dias had to clear with white shirts around him.
The closing stages were beginning more jittery than City’s dominance – 62% possession going into the final 20 minutes – had suggested. Missing was the killer touch – as when Sterling teed up Gündogan and his attempt was a lame shot more akin to a backpass.
He was more convincing when securing City’s second goal, before Sterling finished off a fluid move for a late third, Riyad Mahrez being the creator.