They came. They scored. They won. They left. That’s what it felt like at the Etihad, and little more. “This was as easy as it gets,” claimed one radio analyst. Seven goals and a clean sheet, it was too easy and far too one-sided for a Champions League knockout match.
A first leg win and three away goals ensured that Manchester City entered this return match without a troubling conscience and full in the knowledge that baring a complete self-destructing episode they would progress past Schalke and into Friday’s quarter-final draw.
A sequel of the helter-skelter first leg in Germany three weeks ago this was not. It was much more serene and City offered greater control – there was never any thought that they would have to come from behind in this one.
In reality, it was over before it began. The gears were there to be worked through but really there was no need to go beyond second.
Danilo starts as centreback in unusual defence
The official team-sheets given out by Uefa prior to kickoff had Kyle Walker marked as Aymeric Laporte’s centreback partner but as time would tell it was Danilo who played centrally to form an unlikely partnership. This was not a conventional City backline which essentially featured four full backs.
If the irregular setup of City’s backline was not an invitation for Schalke to go at their opponents from the outset, then little would have been.
But the visitors rarely attempted to breach City’s defence and the high line that they were deploying. Breel Embolo was sent through once or twice but he was often isolated and unable to hold up play.
Schalke were really only concerned with sitting deep, in an attempt to try and stay in the tie for as long as possible. Although with a single goal from City well and truly taking it beyond Domenico Tedesco’s side, it was always going to be unlikely that Schalke would have been able to hold on.
City set early pace but it was slow
With Schalke only committing in fits and starts, as usual, much of the possession lay with City. Yet with a goal advantage and a heavy schedule, Pep Guardiola’s side opted to take it slow. A genteel pace was set and failed to produce any meaningful chances in the opening half hour.
City have become accustomed to dictating terms during matches and on this occasion, they were happy to just remain in control without seriously testing Ralf Fahrmann.
Much of the play centred around David Silva and Bernardo Silva, their neat touches and metronomic passing kept the hosts ticking whilst they were trying to find a pathway through the congested final third.
Aguero kick-started the scoring
The boost that City needed, and got, was from Sergio Aguero who converted from the penalty spot after Jeffrey Bruma blocked and then brought down Bernardo Silva when through on goal.
That was the goal which ensured that the following 55 minutes were more or less a formality. The second he added in the 38th minute put the cherry on top, mainly because it contained a lovely Ilkay Gundogan pass and a Raheem Sterling back-heeled assist.
Here was yet more evidence of what Aguero brings to City if anyone needed reminding. Considering Guardiola was far from convinced that the Argentine would be part of his plans only 18 months ago, it is remarkable to see his stature in this team currently.
Irrespective of whether Aguero is the best at pressing when out of possession, or as intricate as Guardiola would want him to be, he is an instinctive goalscorer and how City have needed his goals this season.
These were his 22nd and 23rd goals of this campaign in all competitions and when he trudged off just after the hour mark, he had completed another typical Aguero performance; adding the finishing touches to some fine pieces of City possession.
Margin of defeat could be the nail in coffin for Tedesco
Following Aguero’s double came the onslaught. Clinical and lethal in its nature, this was Guardiola’s side at their intrusive best. Schalke’s defence slowly crept further up-field as each goal went in – which is counterintuitive and almost became a self-defeating prophecy. There was little midfield authority from Suat Serdar and Nabil Bentaleb who appeared overawed and overthought throughout.
It started to feel that every effort City had at Fahrmann’s goal went in and led to shots being taken from a fair distance out, and still going in. Leroy Sane scored the third with a curling finish against his former side.
Then it was over to Bernardo Silva and Sterling along with substitutes Gabriel Jesus and Phil Foden – all in conjunction with VAR – to carry through the demolition.
Tedesco was already under pressure heading into this match with his side slipping close to a relegation fight. This rather feeble display from his players and the sheer succumbing to a City performance that was by no means extraordinary will put his future in serious doubt.
City’s future though looks more certain and none of their past qualifications into the quarter-final draw of this competition have come so easy for them as this.
Guardiola though was cautious about what lies ahead for his side in the next round; the competition is “immense” he said. But given City have even more to give, they will certainly be considered favourite by many.