Manchester City were a delight to watch in an exhibition of attacking football. Club Brugge were undefeated in the competition but here ran into a mismatch. Philippe Clement’s side were reduced to extras in a scintillating City show.
Pep Guardiola is the epitome of a continual search for perfection, but even he was impressed. “It was a really good performance. One of the best in Europe, definitely,” said the manager. “I know how good they did with PSG [drawing] and in Germany [beating RB Leipzig] but we controlled the game. We are all of us delighted.”
Guardiola revealed he had consulted his former captain, Vincent Kompany, now manager of Anderlecht. “I spoke to Vinny and he gave me some info, he knows Brugge better than me, he told me to be careful,” Guardiola said.
Perhaps most impressive beyond the individual flourishes – Phil Foden was to the fore in that regard – was the concerted hunger across a team who kept on hunting more goals even after they went three up in the 53rd minute via Kyle Walker’s dead-eyed finish, his first goal in the competition.
Guardiola was so relaxed and City so impressive he could take off Foden and Kevin De Bruyne just after the hour in a packed stadium that was packed for this early-evening kick-off. Those who came on took three minutes to create a fourth as Raheem Sterling skated along the left and zipped the ball over for Cole Palmer, a 19-year-old enjoying a second Champions League appearance, to sweep sweetly in from 18 yards. Of Palmer, Guardiola said: “Cole has a special quality, has this talent which is difficult to find.”
From the start City gradually became an unstoppable juggernaut. In their white away strip the visitors were a whir of invention, Rodri scooping balls around and across the turf, as Foden’s sense of geometry bewitched the hosts.
There was a breathtaking moment when the youngster, in traffic, swivelled and skimmed a pass to João Cancelo along the left that had Brugge’s rearguard scuttling and summed up his and City’s supremacy. “Phil is Phil,” Guardiola said. “All I want is for him to control his life on and off the pitch and be incredibly professional. I know how he loves to play but it’s not just what you do on the pitch.”
“Toothless” was a fair description of Clement’s men and when Clinton Mata strong-armed the effervescent Bernardo Silva illegally he personified frustration. The exact same emotion was felt by the out-of-sorts De Bruyne when Silva teed him up near the penalty spot only for him to unload tamely straight at Mignolet.
Foden, City’s nominal No 9, went close from a Jack Grealish cross, before the youngster created a clever opener. Dropping back to halfway, a diagonal found Cancelo and after some nifty control with his chest, the left-back slid the ball past an onrushing Simon Mignolet.
Sadly, the Portuguese’s celebration was marred by a few missiles being thrown at him. From that point on City dazzled, however, an unnerving proposition of angled runs and passes. An illustration came in a rat-a-tat percussive move in which Rodri tapped to Silva who instantly relayed on to Walker, whose attempted ball in was repelled only at the last moment.
At the other end Eduard Sobel’s break forced Rúben Dias to hack away for a corner in a rare foray forward for Brugge. This was followed a little later by a second delivery from the opposite side, which came to nothing.
And now came City’s second. Riyad Mahrez, quiet thus far, taunted Stanley Nsoki with dancing feet inside the area. Brugge’s No 4 took the bait and brought him down. The Algerian got up and coolly beat Mignolet from the spot, to the keeper’s right, before Foden ended his 45-minute masterclass by darting through, pirouetting, then sliding the ball to Mahrez, who should have made it 3-0.
The second half was a question of how many more City might score given their relentless control of the match. Total domination of the ball and tempo continued.
De Bruyne lifted in a cross from the left, Brugge scrambled it away. Cancelo tried to feed Foden and the Belgian side, once more, just about cleared. Brugge were being pummelled constantly by those in white who were akin to ghosts they could never quite catch.
Their third came via a sequence that went De Bruyne-Mahrez-De Bruyne, whose crafty pass was smashed in by a jubilant Walker. By the final whistle Sterling had spurned the chance to make it 5-0 and Hans Vanaken grabbed a late consolation before Mahrez did score one more for City.
Guardiola is clear the return in a fortnight will be different. Brugge might pray it will be so.