The omens were from long before the first whistle. A referee who had overseen four European losses. A losing run previously unheard of for English clubs. For Pep Guardiola and his team, there was a foreboding that surrounded their inaugural fixture with Bundesliga outfit TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, with City needing to get back to winning ways as much to give confidence for a looming domestic title clash against Liverpool as it was to give a needed three points in the UEFA Champions League group stages.
Having been tipped to win the competition before the early stages had even begun, a early goal threatened to rock the Blues on the heels in a manner that has started to become ominously familiar. Left back absences had forced an uncertainty upon the team and with that shock, Guardiola must have been pondering his psychic powers when he asked for challenges in Europe to test their mettle. However, he will have ultimately been encouraged by the persistence to find the eventual winner courtesy of David Silva.
Here are our player ratings as City gave us all a trip down the Centurions memory lane with a last-gasp winner…
Ederson – 6
Given that the Brazilian shot-stopper has not had that many shots to stop so far this season, it was only to be expected that Ederson’s rare involvements were to be action-filled. As surprised as the rest of the team by the opener, he went on to make a good save from Belfodil before the interval. The second half was equally as unpredictable as an Ederson-like goal kick boomed up from the Hoffenheim end, only for the Brazilian’s commitment to see him caught out and almost embarrassed if not for a vital backtrack from Sané.
Kyle Walker – 6
Walker is a confusing player to describe. With lung-busting runs and a good amount of physicality, the Yorkshireman certainly has all the abilities of a world class full back. Tonight, those physical qualities were certainly needed in order to stifle Hoffenheim’s swift moves, yet there seems to be a slight lack of intuition at times. Arguably lucky to be on the pitch after catching his man studs up at one point.
Vincent Kompany – 5
I would be surprised if Vinnie had not merited at least part of his call up tonight upon his captain’s merit alone. After a disappointing loss against Lyon, the Belgian would have been the first to rally the troops and have been eager to lead the team by example come their first away fixture. However, just when it seems Kompany is freed from the shackles of injury, there are increasing disheartening signs that he s struggling to keep pace with opposition that is only getting younger.
Nicolas Otamendi – 5
Given his three clean sheets upon starting against Fulham, Cardiff, and Brighton, I don’t think many City fans will have been unhappy to see Nicolas Otamendi’s name appear when the team sheets were announced. Indeed, though the Argentinian had suffered from a couple of awful performances at the World Cup, he had appeared to bring a much-needed solidity to the City backline following his return to action in Manchester. Unfortunately, the Otamendi that appeared tonight resembled far more the nervy player he had been prior to last season, and without a qualified ball-playing defensive partner, looked far more uncertain. His substitution felt unfortunate, yet justified all the same.
Aymeric Laporte – 5
It would be unfair to criticise Laporte on a night he was arguably the least discussion option to fill in at left back. With the seemingly more likely Zinchenko and Danilo deemed unnecessary, Tuesday night saw the rock-solid Frenchman look like a man trying to play two positions, darting across the width of the pitch to provide centre back cover at one moment whilst caught out of position the next. If this was a trial run for a potential left back role against Liverpool come Sunday, Guardiola will be all the more eager to track Benjamin Mendy’s recovery, likewise allowing Laporte to return to his imperious form at centre back.
Fernandinho – 6
The more and more I watch Fernandinho this season, the more the sound of Txiki Begiristain’s laughs haunt my mind. The Brazilian ultimately suffered from the general disjointedness early on, meaning by the time he was on the ball, he had far fewer options that usual. It goes without saying that match fitness is not Fernandinho’s issue — it’s match composure. How can we expect him to return to his previously formidable nature if he cannot find the moments to breath? A solution is increasingly needed.
Ilkay Gündogan – 4
Having put in a man of the match performance against Cardiff, the much-maligned German had seemingly started to turn the tide of criticism in his favour as the Blues romped to a 5-0 win. That rejuvenated performance consequently made his anonymity a harder blow as a return to his home country saw him either caught in possession or simply not being proactive enough for a team desperately searching for a goal. All the same, a potential hamstring injury will not help City’s chances come the weekend. Hopefully it’s not too serious.
David Silva – 9 (Man of the Match)
Similar to Fernandinho, there were plenty of signs to suggest that David was being caught out by an encompassing sense of fragmentation throughout the team, with a few errant passes being spilled particularly in the first half. That being said, it makes Silva sparkle all the more when given the grim situation, he is able to produce wonders, laying a delightful through ball to Sané to assist the leveller before setting Sterling off for another close attempt in the first half. Nagelsmann surely took notice given how tightly he was marked after the break, but lo and behold, ‘El Mago’ conjures up the winner.
Leroy Sané – 8
Contrasting to his countryman Gündogan, Leroy Sané looked like a man with a hot poker up his backside as the German constantly weaved through the Hoffenheim lines in front of the watchful eyes of a stern Joachim Löw in the stands. Indeed, it seemed Sané had a point to prove, attempting as if to produce a mouth-dropping dribble for every match he missed for German national team at the World Cup. Given that he seemed to be smiling into the jeering crowds, there are positive signs the young man is relishing the increased pressures this season has thrust upon him.
Raheem Sterling – 7
After so many weeks of consistently pressing his case for being City’s best player, it seemed that luck just wasn’t on the young Englishman’s side in the Rhine-Neckar Region. Certain touches just fell out of reach, whilst others ran just beyond him, but Sterling persisted all the same. He was likewise just denied a goal that would have given a needed lead before half time, yet continued to give it his all. The Hoffenheim press paid off to keep City’s early-season danger man quiet in the second half, leading Guardiola to make a change to keep the Germans guessing. Those extra minutes rest may provide dividends though; with Liverpool having a day less to prepare for the weekend’s clash at Anfield, Sterling will hope his return will see him bestowed with fresh legs and just that ounce of good fortune.
Sergio Agüero – 8
Agüero proved his everlasting quality by finding that crucial equaliser from a hard position as he was surrounded by three Hoffenheim defenders, making himself the second player to score in five consecutive Champions League away gamester an English side in the process. Went a bit quiet for a time and, in keeping with the rest of the team, found himself a yard short at times, but proved himself a persistent menace when he on the ball. Nonetheless, he proved lethal eye for goal is a weapon that cannot be accounted for, forcing the Hoffenheim goalkeeper into a finger-tip save at one point to deny what might have been one of City’s greatest European goals.
John Stones – 8
Without a confident passer in the centre-back pairing for almost two-thirds of the game, John Stones must have been growing more and more restless on the bench as the minutes ticked by. By the time he replaced Otamendi, the game was crying out for a more assured presence in defence, though it was a surprise to see the Englishman step into the middle of the park. Regardless of position however, City looked a side transformed by Stones’s arrival; he can take a great amount of confidence from the way he shored up City’s defensive game, cutting out vital balls whilst able to play more progressive passes further up the pitch.
Bernardo Silva – 8
I hesitate to call Bernardo’s involvement an inspired substitution given the evident contrasts of Gündogan’s poor performance against the Portuguese player’s brilliant form this year. With Kevin De Bruyne’s injury allowing him to fully flourish in a central position, the man so aptly nicknamed ‘Bubblegum’ brought a much-need ball retention to the midfield as he ensured the Blues’s authority at an important stage of the game. Not only did he instil calm, but Bernardo showed exactly why he has also been deployed in wide areas with great runs along the left flank. Surely a starter against the intensive press of Liverpool.
Riyad Mahrez – 7
The Algerian may have felt hard done by in only seeing 15 minutes of the game tonight, yet rotation is inevitable in a squad as packed with talent as Guardiola’s City side. What matters is that those appearances bring quality in whatever form they take, and Mahrez’s short display against Hoffenheim betrayed an growing role in Pep’s plans. His miraculous dribbling abilities put an all-important seed of doubt into the Hoffenheim defence, and those previously aggressively pressing Mahrez’s predecessor in Sterling found themselves looking for answers at times, particularly when the Algerian seemed to deploy a familiar cut-inside only to shave the goalmouth with his right foot. If he keeps it up, Mahrez could be a very important player this season.