BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The Portuguese connection of João Cancelo and Bernardo Silva combined for almost identical goals as Manchester City beat Borussia Mönchengladbach 2-0 Wednesday to close in on a fourth straight appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals.
A 19th straight win for the Premier League leaders never looked in doubt in the last-16 first leg from the moment Cancelo, City’s playmaker at fullback, pounced on a loose pass and swung in a cross from the left that the diminutive Silva headed in at the far post in the 29th minute.
The same combination struck again in the 65th, Cancelo sending over a similar-looking cross this time to the byline, where Silva nodded the ball across goal for Gabriel Jesus to prod into the net from inside the six-yard box.
It was another dominant display by Pep Guardiola’s side, which is unbeaten in all competitions in more than three months — a run of 26 games — and has won every game since mid-December.
City didn’t even need Kevin De Bruyne, its star player, who was an unused substitute on a night Cancelo — a tactically versatile defender — showed off the creative side that has suddenly made him one of Guardiola’s most important players this season.
“He is so clever,” Guardiola said. “He gives us something special in our process to play.”
Silva appreciates him, too, the pair having forged a bond while coming through the academy at Portuguese team Benfica together.
“We’re the same generation and we have a good connection,” Silva said of Cancelo, who often drifts into midfield to supplement City’s attacks. “He knows my timing and I know how good he is on these balls.”
The sight of record scorer Sergio Aguero coming on as a late substitute for his first appearance since Jan. 3 because of injury capped a night full of positives for City — except for the fact the margin of victory should have been wider at an empty Puskas Arena in Budapest. The game was played in Hungary because of coronavirus travel restrictions.
City’s defense might be virtually impenetrable this season — Gladbach didn’t have a touch in City’s box until the 63rd minute and or a shot on target until the third minute of stoppage time — but there was a lack of cutting edge that clearly annoyed Guardiola, who cut a picture of frustration at times in the technical area.
Jesus, in particular, was a culprit especially when he was sent clean through in the 54th minute after intercepting a back-pass, only to dally on the ball and see his belated attempt at a shot blocked.
“Unfortunately today we were not clinical enough up front. It is something we have to improve in this competition,” Guardiola said.
The Brazil striker made amends with the second goal, which should prove enough ahead of the second leg, scheduled for City’s Etihad Stadium on March 16. City last conceded two goals in its 2-0 loss at Tottenham in the Premier League on Nov. 21 — the team’s last defeat — and has only allowed its opponents 13 touches in City’s box in its four away games in the Champions League this season.
They have only conceded 29 shots in the competition — 19 fewer than the next best team, Real Madrid.
It’s that strong defensive unit created by Guardiola that could lead City to becoming European champion for the first time, after a number of painful eliminations in recent years. Guardiola has never reached the semifinals with City since joining in 2016.
Gladbach, which hasn’t been this deep in Europe’s top club competition since losing to Liverpool in the European Cup semifinals in 1978, had just one shot at goal and it came off the last action of the game.
Hannes Wolf intercepted a stray pass from City midfielder Rodri but his shot from the edge of the area was kept out by goalkeeper Ederson.
“We ran a lot, as we knew we’d have to, but we have to admit we deserved to lose,” Gladbach midfielder Lars Stindl said. “We didn’t make the right decisions when the chances to break presented themselves.
“At the same time, creating chances against Manchester City isn’t as easy as you’d think.”