Soccer – Business as usual for Man City with Champions League cruise amid FFP allegations

Soccer – Business as usual for Man City with Champions League cruise amid FFP allegations


The Premier League club have faced continuous allegations of financial irregularities in recent days but that has proven to be no on-field distraction

Business as usual for Manchester City. Quite what the nature of that business is exactly remains to be determined; in the face of continuous Financial Fair Play allegations the club are sticking by their insistence that they will not comment on “out of context materials” that are an “organised and clear” “attempt to damage the Club’s reputation.”

Pep Guardiola stressed on Tuesday, in the wake of a third round of claims by the Football Leaks group, that City “want to follow the rules of UEFA, FIFA and the Premier League”.

The Catalan was keen to shift the attention back to his side’s work on the pitch, however, and with a resounding 6-0 victory over Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday night, one that puts them on the verge of the Champions League last 16, it is the football that will be the main focus once again, for the short term anyway.

Wednesday began with fresh accusations levelled at City; a fourth article regarding the club’s alleged off-field behaviour since Friday was published in German magazine Der Spiegel.

With a fifth article planned on Thursday, not to mention the very real possibility of a UEFA investigation, there is little chance of the news agenda moving on any time soon.

Yet City’s latest thrashing of distinguished opposition serves as timely reassurance for their supporters that Guardiola and his players will not have their heads turned. The Blues fans that claim, conspiratorially, that the leaks are designed to disrupt the team ahead of Sunday’s Manchester derby can rest easy.

This was yet another consummate victory, with the ever-improving Raheem Sterling at the forefront – and not just because of the penalty he was comically awarded that set City well on their way to what would have been qualification for the last 16 had Hoffenheim not grabbed a late equaliser in Lyon. 

Not that City should worry about their qualification if they keep playing like this, and they got up and running here thanks to one of their trademark goals. That is to say, a tap-in. Such close-range finishes are usually derided as easy goals to score, and many great goalscorers over the years have been unfairly written off as “tap-in merchants”, yet that does a disservice to their poachers’ instinct. And it is just as unfair, really, to label many of City’s goals under Guardiola mere tap-ins. 

They have mastered the arts of getting a player to the byline and cutting it back towards the back post. It is not easy – if it were everybody would be doing it – yet City seem to get at least one goal this way every game. On Wednesday, it was David Silva’s turn. The Spaniard is often the man cutting the ball back for a striker (or playing in Leroy Sane so he can do it), but he came in from the left to meet Riyad Mahrez’s low cross from the right, needing only to change the angle of his foot to guide the ball into the empty net from a matter of yards.

Gabriel Jesus knows all about that type of close-range goal, and he too has been the victim of rival fans’ taunts that he “only scores tap-ins”. He had not managed one of those for a while, however, and there had been legitimate concerns that he has looked short of confidence in recent weeks. That seemed to be the case even as he scored from the spot – after Sterling had tripped himself – when he then proceeded to end up on his backside after slotting the ball into the bottom corner.

Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Jesus, David Silva, Man City

Yet by the end of the night he had got a hat-trick, the second another penalty, this time finished far more emphatically, and the third a sumptuous chip over the advancing keeper Andriy Pyatov in stoppage time.

In among the Brazilian’s strikes were fine efforts from Sterling and Mahrez, who appear to be Guardiola’s best bets for the wide positions at this moment. Sterling is maturing into a genuinely excellent footballer, even more so than he looked last season, and he again proved that with a surging run through the Shakhtar ranks and an unstoppable curling shot that had the Etihad Stadium on its feet. 

Mahrez, after a few shaky performances in the opening weeks of his City career, now appears to be fully plugged into the matrix. He tracks back to win as many balls as any of his team-mates and he pops up in all the positions expected of the players who guided the Blues to a 100-point season last time out. After all, he was the one who crossed for Silva and he was in a similar position in the second half to fire in low down as Guardiola’s side really turned the screw.

They have now scored six goals in each of their last two games, playing themselves into form that will be ominous from the point of view of England and Europe’s finest clubs.

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Those clubs, however, will sense an opportunity to derail City via the Football Leaks allegations of the past week. La Liga has already said that if UEFA does not investigate the Premier League champions, it will take its complaint to the European Union.

That could spark a counter complaint from City against the legality of FFP itself, an indication of how messy this whole situation could become in the coming months.

It is a story that will not go away, but on all the available evidence the same can be said for City’s trophy credentials.

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