Manchester City eventually saw off a stubborn (if defensively inept) RB Leipzig side to get their 2021/22 Champions League campaign off to a winning start on Wednesday night.
The opening goal arrived through an unlikely source, with centre-back Nathan Ake climbing above two defenders to meet a corner and power a header into the back of the net – via Peter Gulacsi’s fingertips and the crossbar – after a quarter of an hour.
RB Leipzig defender Nordi Mukiele inexplicably and inadvertently doubled City’s lead shortly before the half-hour mark, heading Kevin De Bruyne’s dangerous cross past his own keeper.
The French defender went some way to redeeming himself later in the first period, nodding an Emile Forsberg cross back across goal for Christopher Nkunku to head in and pull one back for the Bundesliga side.
Any threat of a Leipzig comeback was seemingly put to bed after a harsh handball decision following a VAR review saw City awarded a penalty in first-half stoppage time, and Riyad Mahrez converted with aplomb from the spot.
However, Nkunku scored another header early in the second half, capping off a fine breakaway. The Frenchman found himself in acres of space to loop home Dani Olmo’s chipped cross.
Jack Grealish then appeared to have once again put the game beyond the visitors with a fine individual goal. Cutting inside from the left, the England international was afforded far too much space to curl the ball into the far corner on his Champions League debut.
The tit for tat pattern continued, however, as Nkunku sealed a fine hat-trick with an excellent finish from the angle. Once more, though, it wouldn’t take City long to restore their two-goal lead, with Joao Cancelo popping up on the edge of the penalty area to rifle home a fine effort.
There was still time for ex-City man Angelino to be sent off, picking up a second yellow card for needlessly clattering into Cancelo.
Substitute Gabriel Jesus gave the hosts a three-goal cushion for the first time in the match late on, finally sealing the three points for the Citizens.
Here are your City player ratings from the Etihad Stadium…
Ederson (GK) – 6/10 – Not much he could do about the goals, although beaten at his near post for Nkunku’s hat-trick.
Joao Cancelo (RB) – 8/10 – A constant threat from the back, especially with no direct threat on his wing. One great cross should have been finished by Torres. Demonstrated his attacking ability by rifling home from the edge of the box.
Ruben Dias (CB) – 6/10 – Generally solid, but was one of a number of City defenders to afford Nkunku far too much space for his second.
Nathan Ake (CB) – 7/10 – Survived a very early penalty shout. Recovered to climb above two defenders and send a thumping header in off the crossbar – via the keeper’s fingertips – for the opener. Cut out a dangerous cross later in the first period.
Oleksandr Zinchenko (LB) – 6/10 – Booked for whacking Dani Olmo in the face in the early stages. Lost his man in the build-up as Leipzig pulled one back.
Rodri (DM) – 7/10 – Kept things ticking over as usual. Appeared to pick up an injury before being subbed on the hour mark.
Kevin De Bruyne (CM) – 7/10 – Typically enterprising and creative, showing City what they’ve missed during his injury absence. Forced Mukiele’s own goal with a wonderful delivery.
Bernardo Silva (CM) – 6/10 – Quite often sloppy in possession in the first half and unable to influence things at either end. Made to look silly by Olmo as Leipzig pulled one back. Hooked on the hour.
Riyad Mahrez (RW) – 8/10 – Very nearly picked Grealish out with a wicked delivery early on. Trademark curling effort deflected just wide. Excellent penalty, smacked into the top right corner.
Ferran Torres (ST) – 6/10 – Somehow failed to connect with an excellent cross from Cancelo. Denied a fine goal by the offside flag before being subbed.
Jack Grealish (LW) – 8/10 – Perfect set-piece delivery for the opening goal. Thumping effort from the angle saved by Gulacsi later in the half. Wonderful individual goal to mark his Champions League debut.
Fernandinho (DM) – 6/10
Ilkay Gundogan (CM) – 6/10
Phil Foden (CM) – N/A
Raheem Sterling (ST) – N/A
Gabriel Jesus (ST) – 7/10 – Easy goal.