Manchester City grind out a win for Pep Guardiola

A win is a win, not something you hear much at the Etihad these days. City were not at their most compelling, indeed were often inferior to the Ukraine champions in movement and rhythm, but a 90th-minute goal from Raheem Sterling and a beauty from Kevin de Bruyne sealed their best start to a Champions League campaign.

The Manchester City players celebrate Belgian forward Kevin De Bruynes opening goal three minutes into the second half. Picture: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
The Manchester City players celebrate Belgian forward Kevin De Bruynes opening goal three minutes into the second half. Picture: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Sergio Aguero from the spot, Sterling and Leroy Sane might all have added to the score as City at last began to swarm over their opponents late in the game, but that would have distorted the picture.

So frustrated had Pep Guardiola become, that he borrowed from the book of Louis van Gaal’s eccentric moments, throwing himself to the floor in his technical area after another move broke down.

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Should City be the team holding aloft the Champions League trophy in Kiev, this off-key night will be long forgotten. Guardiola celebrated with a clenched fist at the end before congratulating his opposite number Paulo 
Fonseca for putting up an excellent fight.

A prosaic opening gave way to a furious eruption by Donetsk, who do a very good line in imported Brazilian footballers. Fred, Bernard, Marlos and Taison began to swagger with some clever, incisive passing, the more impressive for the passive ten minutes that 
preceded it.

Guardiola warned that City would have to be on their toes against a team who had already dispatched Napoli in the first round of Group F fixtures. Fernandinho was just that to keep City level with a brilliantly-timed tackle as Fred bore down on Ederson.

City were clearly stung and Donetsk empowered, taking the game to their vaunted opponents, showing neither fear nor respect.

Denied any cohesion, City fell back on individual thrusts from the likes of Sane and Aguero. It was hard watching for Guardiola, who was becoming increasingly animated as the ball went back and across. De Bruyne was urgently instructed to switch positions with David Silva, neither of whom had been in the game in the opening half hour, in an attempt to inject urgency into the play.

It almost worked immediately, if by default, when a mistake by Donetsk saw the ball arrive at De Bruyne’s feet and in space. The Belgian needed no invitation to hare towards goal, but, travelling at pace, was unable to control the shot and pulled it wide.

Within seconds, Ederson was diving at full stretch to deny Marlos after another scintillating break by Bernard, who dispossessed Walker on the edge of his box and raced the length of the field to fashion the chance.

Guardiola was waiting for just such a challenge, telling anyone prepared to listen that the avalanche of goals that had seen City net 22 times in the preceding five matches was not guaranteed. Indeed, the first goal of the night seemed more likely to come from Donetsk, who spurned another excellent opportunity five minutes before the break, the unchallenged Ivan Ordets heading a free-kick wide inside the six-yard box.

Eight minutes into the second half Jesus was making way for Sterling, which tells you how dissatisfied Guardiola was, not necessarily with the player, who he hugged, but the group. That City had just taken the lead barely mattered. The goal by De Bruyne came from nothing, gifted via a mistake by Marlos. It was some finish but it did not arrive by design. Guardiola, ever the perfectionist, sent on Sterling with the directive to stretch the pitch wide on the right and give City a better shape.

This he did to some effect, and should have added a second when racing on to an exquisite De Bruyne cross, somehow squirting the ball wide of a post. Aguero was the next to sin, missing from the spot after Sane was sent tumbling in the box.