Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus returns with a bang in win over Olympiakos | Football

Manchester City have a maximum nine points in a group stage that is going perfectly. Factor in a fine display from Ferran Torres at centre-forward and Gabriel Jesus’s goal-scoring appearance as a substitute following a long lay-off and Pep Guardiola was left pleased. His team are rolling along impressively, showing signs of the formidable force they can be.

After this victory over Olympiakos a draw in the reverse fixture in Greece guarantees passage to the knockout phase. “We need one more point to qualify,” Guardiola said. “Now we have four or five days to recover well, have one day off, and prepare for Liverpool [on Sunday]. It is good news that Gabriel is back. And, in the first half, we were really good.”

The impressive Torres’s opening goal made it a third scoring game in a row for him in the Champions League. “He moved really well without and with the ball,” said the manager.

From kick-off to the interval City swarmed all over their visitors, the ball being pinged around at will, exemplified when Ilkay Gündogan chipped towards Raheem Sterling and Olympiakos were fortunate no teammate was found.

What they did not require was Rúben Semedo to dribble near his penalty spot and run straight into Kevin De Bruyne. This time Pedro Martins’s side escaped but moments later they did not. Gündogan tapped to Riyad Mahrez and he passed inside to Torres. A quick one-two with De Bruyne and the forward was in and firing past José Sá to put City in front.

Olympiakos were befuddled, dazed. Possession was scarce and ill-used when it occurred, such as when Mathieu Valbuena had a chance to cross but spooned the ball into Ederson’s hands. John Stones and Nathan Aké, who was making his Champions League debut, were spectators at the back called upon occasionally to trade passes before allowing Gündogan, Phil Foden and De Bruyne to move the side upfield.

Better came from Olympiakos when Valbuena, his radar adjusted, floated in a teaser for Lazar Randjelovic to run on to – Ederson managed to collect but it was marginal. Torres, though, was proving irresistible, flitting around the frontline to receive and open up space for teammates.

Quality teemed through City.

Sterling beat Sá but was ruled offside and so City’s supremacy still had only the opener to show for it. An Oleksandr Zinchenko-Mahrez-Foden sequence ended with the ball fizzing before the visiting keeper but once more the Greek side did not concede.

Guardiola was frustrated at his team’s slender lead as the second half kicked off. And he would have been conscious of his side’s vulnerability to the quick smash-and-grab raid that appeared the main hope for Olympiakos. Yet it was a rare corner lifted in by Valbuena that had City’s rearguard creaking – Mady Camara rising to head, though not on target.

City’s high-octane game had dissipated and instead they were sloppy, Mahrez’s loss of possession when carrying the ball forward sending Guardiola sinking to his haunches.

The home team’s loss of focus was also evident when, in front of City’s goal, Foden blundered by hitting a pass blindly to Stones only to find Valbuena, who should have done better from close range. This had the Olympiakos bench disappointed but their side were now firmly in the contest. The next moment of panic came from a Camara cross that went to an unmarked Youssef El-Arabi, but he failed to control.

The stability Guardiola craves in his team had vanished. Gündogan should have restored it via a chance from 20 yards but the ball was blasted over.

City were laboured, appearing as fatigued as they had previously been ebullient. “If one team was going to score it was going to be Olympiakos,” said Martins of that juncture in the contest. Yet Jesus’s introduction for the closing phase was welcome and confirmed the win, though Olympiakos did still threaten sporadically. A José Holebas surge took him beyond Kyle Walker but the former Watford player did not trouble Ederson before, at the other end, De Bruyne joined Torres on a break and collected the latter’s pass though he unloaded a shot straight into Sá’s hands.

With around nine minutes remaining De Bruyne turned provider, his pass being taken by Jesus and, after a shimmy, the City No 9 smashed the ball into the roof of Sá’s net. “It was an amazing finish, hard for the keeper,” said the Brazilian. João Cancelo wrapped up the scoring with a long-range shot in the last minute.

Guardiola said. “There is one more game before the [international] break. Now is the time to enjoy tonight, nine points. And then tomorrow we recover. I’m delighted with the situation we have – and there is sunshine [forecast] in Manchester for the next few days.” City are hitting top gear at the right moment, but Liverpool on Sunday will be a far sterner test.


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