Manchester City put on a show on the opening night of the Champions League knockout rounds, winning 5-0 and sending a reminder to the rest of Europe that they are favourites to lift the trophy in Saint Petersburg in May for a reason.
The last-16 tie with Sporting Lisbon was over after 30 minutes when Phil Foden dinked in City’s third goal.
Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva had already found the net and before the Serbian referee had managed to blow his half-time whistle, Silva, his every touch booed thanks to his links with Benfica, scored a fourth.
City became first team to score four goals in the first half of a Champions League tie. Game over. Job done.
When Raheem Sterling made it 5-0 with a goal which moved him into City’s top-10 goalscorers of all-time, there was still more than half an hour to play. The only incentive for Sporting to turn up in Manchester in three weeks’ time is to try to avoid the 12-1 aggregate defeat they suffered to Bayern Munich the last time they reached the knockout rounds in 2009. A repeat performance from City and it will be a close run thing.
“It is a fantastic team, they are the champions of Portugal but I am very pleased because we make a big step towards the next round,” City boss Pep Guardiola said afterwards.
“It’s just a game with a fantastic result. We have one more game to be in the quarterfinals and this is what you want.”
On their last trip to Sporting Lisbon in 2012, City lost 1-0 in the last 16 of the Europa League, but they are a different beast now.
The reigning champions of Portugal were swept aside in almost dismissive fashion. Guardiola’s team were like a sprinter trying to use the heats to warm up for the main event only to accidentally break the world record.
Made to settle for silver last season, they are aiming for gold this time around, and the bookmakers, at least, believe they are likely to do it. On this evidence it is hard to argue.