When it comes to Manchester City and Europe everything seems to be an inevitability. Their routine victory over Young Boys secured an 11th straight season in the Champions League knockout stages and a 28th home game unbeaten in the competition.
It helps when Pep Guardiola has Erling Haaland at his disposal. He did the damage for City, scoring twice to take his Champions League tally to 39 in 34 games with a penalty and a vicious drive into the top corner. The closest the Young Boys defence got to the Norwegian in his hour on the pitch was when he walked down the tunnel at half-time and was asked for his shirt by the opposition captain Mohamed Ali Camara.
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For many in yellow and black it will be a career highlight to play against the reigning kings of Europe but it was not a competitive occasion. The nearest Young Boys got to the City net was when their fans threw a smoke bomb onto the pitch in the vicinity of the six-yard box, as they finished with no shots and one player fewer in what was a mismatch. One Swiss player who will not remember the evening fondly is the midfielder Sandro Lauper who gave away the penalty for Haaland’s opener and was sent off for a second bookable offence to end his night in the 53rd minute.
A victory at home to Leipzig in their next match will seal top spot. “The job is still not done because we have to finish first because it is better to have the second leg in the last 16 at home, not away, because at home we feel confident,” Guardiola said. “The first step to qualify is done. I am really impressed. We scored two fantastic goals, the second and third are amazing goals.”
Lauper did not miss much as City failed to add to their goal tally, spending the final third of the match keeping their possession stats high. There was no chance of a comeback even with 11 men on the pitch for Young Boys as they failed to register a shot on or off target, a firm indication of the differing standards involved.
A goalline block and a double save from Anthony Racioppi were the reasons it took until Matheus Nunes being tripped by Lauper for City to open the scoring from the spot in the 23rd minute. There was no doubt of the ball’s destination after Haaland picked it up and placed it on the spot before calmly sending the goalkeeper the wrong way.
Phil Foden doubles Manchester City’s lead with a composed finish. Photograph: Peter Klaunzer/EPA
Phil Foden dazzled on the right, earning his reward on the eve of half-time as he received a Jack Grealish pass, tricked his way beyond Ulisses Garcia before slotting into the far bottom corner for a deserved second. There had been few nerves around the Etihad all night and even the most pessimistic of fans would have accepted that the outcome was settled, even Camara knew as he secured his memento of the occasion from Haaland. “I am a little bit surprised by that,” the Young Boys head coach Raphaël Wicky said. “On the other hand, I don’t think it has anything to do with the game and the performance. I will have a word with him about that and see what he thought. Maybe Haaland asked him.” Haaland did not receive a shirt in return.
The striker’s second was a rarity, a goal from outside the box, only the third time he has done so since arriving at City. He received a Rico Lewis pass, swivelled and unleashed a bullet from 20 yards for his fans – on and off the pitch – to admire.
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It was a night of glorious efficiency for Guardiola. He was able to rest Rodri and allowed Mateo Kovacic a chance to flourish in midfield in a dominant display alongside the equally impressive Lewis and Nunes, and Grealish was afforded time in a central role.
There was one negative as John Stones suffered a recurrence of a hip injury which forced him to be taken off. “He will be a while out,” Guardiola said. “It is a pity for him because he is an incredible professional. It is bad news for us.”
It was a long way from the glory of Istanbul in June but the first stage of a second tilt at the trophy is complete.