Five Things We Learned: Olympique Marseille 0 - 3 Manchester City (Champions League)

A more dominant display than in recent games saw Manchester City record their second Champions League win of the season, in their first ever match against Olympique Marseille. City took control all over the pitch in what was arguably their best performance of the season so far.
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A more dominant display than in recent games saw Manchester City record their second Champions League win of the season, in their first ever match against Olympique Marseille. City took control all over the pitch in what was arguably their best performance of the season so far.

With the Blues commanding so much of the ball, three goals from three different players, and a clean sheet, there's plenty to unpack from this one. Here are five things we learned...


Intensity Is Key

Over the last few seasons, there have been many examples of Manchester City allowing a slight drop-off in their game to lead to bad results. We don't have to look any further than the first-half against West Ham on Saturday. City players lacked intensity with and without the ball, and a better second-half wasn't enough to rescue three points.

This certainly wasn't the case at the Stade Vélodrome on Tuesday night. From the first minute, City were passing the ball quicker and pressing Marseille players within seconds of them receiving the ball. It's 'the basics' of football, as Fabian Delph would put it - and it worked.

Midway through the second-half, you could see Manchester City's determination to recover the ball dip slightly, but at that moment there were more substitutions and a constant rant from Pep Guardiola on the touchline that lasted till the final whistle. You can see (and hear) that this is what the manager needs. This is the template they can use to string more than a few results together.

It's going to be a huge ask to play this way game after game with such a hectic schedule ahead, but if Guardiola's side can get themselves in front, we know that statistically they're more likely to go on and win. A few goals ahead deep in the second half and some Rodri to Gündogan sideways passes might not be so objectionable.

The Front Three We Needed

Not for a long time have injuries to the forward line been more acutely felt by a Manchester City side. Even those endlessly bemoaning the finishing of Gabriel Jesus would have secretly been longing for him after Sergio Agüero's latest set-back.

Last night's match saw Guardiola try something different - a front three of Sterling on the right, Foden on the left, and Torres in the middle. It brought pace and youthful vigour to the forward line that I don't think we've seen since Leroy Sané was frozen out of the team. If the intensity was the key, these three were the best example of it.

Part of me wants to think that the main reason for selecting Torres through the centre was so that he could link-up with Foden more easily, after their successful shift against Porto. But as pointed out after the game, Pep wanted to stretch the play with a right-footer on the right, and a left-footer on the left. It worked effectively and allowed Manchester City to pass through Marseille's low-block for each goal.

Regardless, it was great to see Foden and Torres partner up again, and to see Sterling reprise his tap-in merchant role from the right-flank. Until we see Agüero or Jesus on the team-sheet again, this could be the formula to see through hectic weeks ahead.

Who Can? Gündogan!

So this wasn't the dreaded double-pivot we anticipated. Gündogan played in more of a number eight role, controlling the play going forward and making darting runs in behind Marseille's back-line that was reminiscent of David Silva. Not being underneath Rodri's feet also provided the Spaniard with more room to do his thing as well.

The German international scored the second goal which effectively killed off the oppositions chance of getting back into the game, but he almost set up an opener for City, flashing a pass across the face of goal which his teammates were unlucky not to take advantage of. This helped set the blueprint for how his team would work in the goals to come.

Gündogan doesn't often get the credit he deserves in this team. I've got a feeling that his versatility and the skill-set he brings is going to be vital for Manchester City mounting a title challenge this season. Incidentally, he also continues his trend of scoring right before he's about to be substituted. It might be a good idea to pop his number up on the fourth officials board whenever he's in with a chance.

A Defence To Be Proud Of

Manchester City recorded their third clean sheet of the season with a massive amount of credit going to three defenders in this match. Once again, Kyle Walker proved to be one of his teams most valuable assets, using his pace to intercept and gather up loose balls. His reading of the game is almost at Minority Report levels - seeing attacks before they even happened.

We also got to see the central defensive partnership we've been waiting for. Both Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte were solid aerially and positionally, which is the most you could ask in a game where the opposition saw so little of the ball. What's important is that they kept their concentration despite that and made no mistakes. Which is a breath of fresh air.

The overall intensity of the team across the pitch helped unnerve Marseille on the ball, making it easier for the back-line, but when called upon, they cleaned up every time. Before the game, Pep Guardiola said he was 'glad' of our defenders and from this game you can see why.

City's True Leader

There were a few raised eyebrows when the Kevin De Bruyne wasn't elected to be the team's captain. Last season, the Belgian stepped up and did all he could to get his team back on track and that's exactly what he did last night.

Coming back from a short injury spell, there were bound to be a few mistakes in his game, but overall he raised everyone's performance. His ability to find enough space and time to plot-out the team's attack is second to none. It was an inspired display that saw him create two goals, the second of which was a vintage build-from-the-back team goal we haven't seen in a while.

If Manchester City are to gain any momentum from this game, Kevin De Bruyne is essential. A balancing act is going to be required to keep him fit for the rest of the season, which is difficult because the way he plays and leads the team will be crucial to victory in every match.


You can follow Richard on Twitter here: @ignoblewretch

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