This Manchester City demolition of Sporting was akin to a heavyweight bullying a featherweight. Really, you wondered how these opponents shared the same pitch, so dominant were England’s champions. At the break Pep Guardiola’s men were four goals up, by the final whistle it was 5-0, and at the close of the tie they may go close to Bayern Munich’s 12-1 evisceration of Sporting at the same stage in 2008-09.
That was the Portuguese club’s only previous experience of the last-16 and this lack of knowhow was written all over how City toyed with them and landed killer blows at will. A prime factor is, of course, the riches the side fuelled by Abu Dhabi’s petro-dollars enjoy: that should allow them to beat a significantly lower-budget operation like Sporting but so immaculately are they drilled by their manager, who might stop the City juggernaut finally claiming the Champions League this term is a puzzle.
The Estádio José Alvalade glittered from phone-torches that lit up the Lisbon night at kick-off and City had the perfect start. A move that featured Aymeric Laporte finding Bernardo Silva ended with Phil Foden’s shot being saved, Kevin De Bruyne passing the rebound to Riyad Mahrez, and the Algerian scoring. City appeared to think De Bruyne was offside but VAR ruled Gonçalo Inácio played the Belgian on, and so Mahrez had a 10th goal in his last 11 Champions League appearances.
Sporting and their support were stunned. The Portuguese champions’ last outing, Friday’s 2-2 draw with Porto, ended in a mass brawl and three of their men sent off. In Rúben Amorim, they have a 37-year-old manager who cost the club €10m to prise from Braga and whose repayment was a cup-and-championship double, the latter a first title in 19 years.
Amorim now had to somehow rally his men but, instead, City struck again. This time a Mahrez corner was weakly cleared and Silva pounced, rifling a superb half-volley past Antonio Adán for a 2-0 lead after only 17 minutes.
Guardiola’s XI featured four old boys of Sporting’s crosstown rival, Benfica – João Cancelo, Rúben Dias, Silva and Ederson: initially booed whenever they took a touch before the home support focused on their team. For a while, Sporting showed flashes of promise. A Ricardo Esgaio raid along the left had City back-pedalling. Then, Pablo Sarabia looked to do the same but the No 17 ran infield and into John Stones, who ended the threat. In-between those moments Pedro Gonçalves, the scorer of four goals in the group stage, let fly twice.
Guardiola, on the prowl in the technical area, was conscious of Sporting’s threat – a volley he gave Rúben Dias for not passing diagonally indicative of his concern. The Catalan was about to applaud his team, though. At first Dias, Rodri, and Stones played keep-ball in their half. But, then, De Bruyne was suddenly marauding towards goal, feeding Mahrez who pirouetted and crossed for Foden to finish – Sebastián Coates, the nearest defender, making it too simple for the forward.
Three-nil up so soon pointed to the mismatch of the contest. City were illustrating precisely why they are the competition favourites and Sporting were showing how Ajax put five past them here in September. The rest of the period had City in a quasi-exhibition mode. Passes were interchanged, positions shifted, differing zones occupied. And, then, a fourth was secured: this time Silva’s strike was from close range, Raheem Sterling teeing him up.
City’s travelling contingent ended the first half regaling their team. The second half, now, seemed a matter of how many more they might register.
The Sporting fans, to their credit, kept singing but the way Cancelo, De Bruyne and Rodri harried their men suggested City were still targeting the jugular. They were: Silva finding the net again before his hat-trick was denied by VAR for offside.
On the touchline, Guardiola next threw up his hands in dismay at an errant Dias chip forward, then he had a prolonged chat with the fourth official, his gestures suggesting unhappiness with the refereeing of Srdjan Jovanovic. More pleasing for him was how a rare Sporting attack was broken up and City, in their slick fashion, moved upfield via Rodri, De Bruyne and Cancelo. And even better was the team’s fifth goal. Here, Sterling’s finish was ruthless, the No 7’s long-range effort sailing into the top corner, this moving him to 10th on the club’s all-time list of scorers.
This had entered embarrassing territory for Sporting. Portugal’s domestic champions were being made to appear a part-time outfit. There were no more goals – but only because City were content with tonight’s work. Guardiola may find minor faults in the display as he is a perfectionist. But, really, there were none.