A second six-goal performance inside a week took Manchester City to the brink of qualification for the Champions league knockout stage – but for Hoffenheim’s late equaliser they would have become the first team to go through with this victory – it was just a pity the night will be remembered for a Norman Wisdom pratfall rather than the football produced to smother Shakhtar Donetsk.
Raheem Sterling did his best to make amends with a fine individual goal at the start of the second half but the penalty he was awarded to break Shakhtar hearts in the first half was a travesty, the kind of thing that simple should not happen in a competition of this calibre. VAR would have overturned the decision at once, or at least as soon as the review panel had stopped laughing.
A feature of the first half was the ease with which Riyad Mahrez was able to find space on the right flank and the elegance with which he was often picked out by long balls from Aymeric Laporte or shorter ones from Bernardo Silva.
The opening goal after 13 minutes came from the latter source, though when Mahrez gathered the ball he still had plenty to do. Two feints and as many changes of direction later, the Shakhtar defender, Yaroslav Rakitskiy, had completely lost his man and probably his bearings as Mahrez reached the byline unimpeded to send in a cross that left David Silva a tap-in.
Shakhtar had actually had the first attempt on target when Júnior Moraes sent in a shot that Ederson covered easily yet still managed to fumble, though by the time Silva struck for the first goal the visitors were beginning to find themselves pinned back by the accuracy of City’s passing. Even so, Shakhtar hardly deserved the indignity and injustice of what took place in the 24th minute when City doubled their lead through a moment of high comedy or low farce, depending on your point of view. Sterling showed his customary turn of speed to reach a Fernandinho ball into the box before Mykola Matviyenko, only to deliver a graceful parabola through the air and land in a heap on the ground before he had managed to make up his mind about shooting.
It seemed at first sight as though he had not been touched by the defender, and replays clearly established Matviyenko was entitled to protest his innocence. Sterling had actually got his studs stuck in the turf, producing a visible divot and losing his balance due to the sudden loss of momentum, yet when he got to his feet – without appealing at any time for a penalty – he found the referee, Viktor Kassai, pointing to the spot. If the thought of owning up to the referee occurred to the player it was only expressed in a shrug and a sheepish gesture as he made way for Gabriel Jesus to score the penalty.
It was not a dive, at least not a premeditated one. Sterling might not win any Robbie Fowler awards for sportsmanship, though by the same token the Hungarian team of officials – don’t forget there is an extra assistant behind the goalline for European games – should probably not expect another outing unless it is for a Specsavers ad in the near future. Killing the game in such a manner rather shortchanged the paying public as well as Shakhtar.
The game and the atmosphere fell a little flat after that, though City had a couple of decent chances before the interval, Jesus waiting too long when one-on-one with Andriy Pyatov then Bernardo Silva firing over from the edge of the area. Any hopes Shakhtar might have had of clawing their way back into the game disappeared three minutes onto the second half when Sterling picked up a pass from David Silva in the middle of the field, accelerated away from a couple of defenders then took out two more by veering right to beat Pyatov with a curling right-footed shot from the edge of the area.
Jesus missed another good chance from open play, putting a close range header over the bar, before adding his second of the night from the spot after Taras Stepanenko brought down David Silva in the area.
This time there was definitely contact. There might have been some scope for debate but next to the firs-half incident it was night and day. With Shakhtar dead on their feet after an evening of chasing shadows, Mahrez scored a fifth five minutes from time after Jesus and Ilkay Gündogan had broke from half way. The winger collected Gündogan’s lobbed pass on his chest to fire in from a narrow angle, before Jesus completed the rout in the closing seconds with a deserved goal from open play, the cutest of chips over a stranded goalkeeper from outside the area.