Pep Guardiola had declared, ‘I grew up loving the Holland culture, how they play. I was a lucky guy’ on the eve of this encounter. And with high netting to keep out missiles and rabid local expectations, this had looked a serious examination of Manchester City’s quest to finally make it in Europe.
Guardiola’s players were the ones who exhibited the Total Football, however, in a performance which revealed precisely what a £215milion summer has delivered to Manchester City.
The club have never opened a Champions League campaign more empathically and not once performed as brutally well away from home in their troubled, six-year quest for Champions League success.
Manchester City romped to victory in their opening Champions League game of the season at Feyenoord on Wednesday
John Stones set City on their way to a comfortably win with the opening goal within two minutes at De Kuip
Stones rose well to head a left-wing corner into the back of the Feyenoord net, nutmegging a defender on the line
City players mob Stones after his header put them in front early on on Wednesday night
Eight minutes later City were two goals to the good thanks to Sergio Aguero’s emphatic near-post finish
Aguero looks delighted to have netted his first Champions League goal of the 2017-18 campaign
Gabriel Jesus scored the simplest goal he’s likely to score as Feyenoord’s defence stood and stared, appealing for offside
Jesus celebrates with his team-mates after making it 3-0 to the visitors with just 25 minutes of the game gone
Stones wheels away in celebration after beating goalkeeper Brad Jones with a header for the second time in the game
Stones added City’s fourth goal of the game to his early opener to complete a comfortable win for the visitors
Feyenoord (5-4-1): Jones 6; Amrabat 4 (Larsson 78), St Juste 5, Botteghin 4.5, Van der Heijden 4, Nelom 4; Berghuis 6 (Toornstra HT 5), Vilhena 4.5, El Ahmadi 5, Boetius 4; Kramer 5 (Vente 72).
Subs not used: Bijlow, Diks, Tapia, Geertruida
Booked: St Juste, Kramer, Vilhena, Botteghin
Manager: Giovanni Van Bronckhorst 5
Man City (4-1-2-3): Ederson 6; Walker 7.5, Stones 7, Otamendi 6, Mendy 7.5; Fernandinho 6; de Bruyne 8, D Silva 7 (Delph 67); Bernardo 7, Aguero 8 (Sterling, 60), Jesus 7.
Subs not used: Bravo, Danilo, Gundogan, Mangala, Sane.
Goals: Stones 2, 62, Aguero 10, Jesus 25
Booked: De Bruyne
Manager: Pep Guardiola 8
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland)
The team selection and tactics of the Dutch champions’ manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst — who selected several rookies — were frankly disastrous and a source of astonishment here last night.
But for movement, speed and attacking options, this still felt like a City change of gear. The level of physicality seemed new.
That two of the goals came from John Stones certainly demonstrated the numbers being thrown into attack.
But it was the midfield axis provided by Kevin De Bruyne which gave the creative spark. His speed of thought and pass, piercing the Dutch defensive lines to initiate wave after wave of attack, made him an untouchable presence.
The hosts were suffocated in possession by Guardiola’s player press.
The City manager declared of De Bruyne: ‘He’s one of the best players I’ve seen in my life in terms of making absolutely everything.’
Much of the added propulsion in this new City side has come from Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy, the full backs who were effectively acting as wingers here and adding an entirely new dimension. Between them they wrought havoc, stealing possession and, once City had seized the ball, operating at fast pace to feed Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus.
Van Bronckhurst’s pre-match platitudes about how City could win this tournament hid a desire to bloody the noses of the mighty.
That feeling is never far from the surface in this port city where they loathe the sophisticated, cultured rivals from Ajax of Amsterdam. The anthem blasting out here in the stadium beforehand translates as ‘hand in hand comrades’.
Feyenoord fans let off flares in the stands prior to kick-off in their side’s game against Manchester City
City goalkeeper Ederson featured just four days after sustaining a nasty injury playing against Liverpool
Manchester City defender Danilo has a go at goal in the early exchanges against Feyenoord in Rotterdam
City captain David Silva charges forward in possession as he is chased by Steven Berghuis
Aguero met a low cross to produce an excellent finish and double City’s lead in the 10th minute of the game
Kevin De Bruyne goes to ground under the challenge of Karim El Hamadi of Feyenoord
City manager Pep Guardiola appeared to enjoy the first half as his side romped into a commanding lead
Aguero wheels away in celebration after finding the back of the net in the 10th minute of the game
Jesus powers forwards in possession as City go in search of their third goal of the game
But from the game’s first breath Guardiola looked to suffocate the spirit of rebellion with his high defensive lines.
‘Good pressing,’ he said of his attacking strategy. ‘We played with three strikers and they could not play. I can imagine this stadium if we’d let them play. We make a lot of passes for 20 to 25 minutes and the crowd was low.’
There was an element of fortune about the goal which sent City ahead after 97 seconds — Stones’ half-connected header after David Silva’s short corner rolling between Tonny Vilhena’s legs and over the line.
But nothing after that lacked conviction in a City side who had arrived with a lamentable record on the road in Europe: one win in 10 and one clean sheet in 17 games.
Jesus had come close to doubling City’s lead — Eric Botteghin heading the Brazilian’s looped header from Bernardo’s dinked cross off the line — before Aguero killed the contest inside 10 minutes.
It was a finish of exquisite anticipation and technique. Walker’s low cross from the right was rapid and awkward, bouncing just in front of the Argentine. But he scooped his boot under the ball to rip it past the goalkeeper Brad Jones, formerly of Middlesbrough and Liverpool.
The pace and rapid exchange of the ball by City reduced the Dutch to a state of sheer panic.
None in their number responded after Mendy thrashed a 20-yard shot through a crowded area. It was parried by Jones to Jesus who tapped in. The defence claimed offside although City’s Nicolas Otamendi, the only offending player, was not interfering with play.
The home side were reduced to a mood of bitter frustration, arguing between themselves and kicking out in a way which saw two of their players booked as the first half wore on.
The most Feyenoord could do was find some self-respect. They were missing their best talent in striker Nicolai Jorgensen but the midfield was pitifully poor, with Vilhena a bystander and utterly out of his depth.
Jesus side-footed home from close range after beating the offside trap to net the third of the game for City
Bernardo Silva is tackled by Miquel Nelom and Jean-Paul Boetius during the clash in Holland
Kyle Walker, who set up Aguero’s goal, jumps over the sliding tackle of Nelom
Ederson was rarely called upon during the game as City dominated throughout in the Champions League clash
Jesus leaps high in the air to bring the ball under control during the second half in Rotterdam
A short corner preceded the fourth goal around the hour, with De Bruyne’s in-swinger finding Stones, whose bullet header added a gloss to the score.
The test, of course, will come against sides with the technical ability to force City back and look for weaknesses.
While praising Stones’ contribution, Guardiola acknowledged ‘he knows the gap he has to improve.’ This competition has been difficult for the defender in the past.
City’s own immediate progress was enhanced by Shakhtar Donetsk’s defeat of Napoli in Kharkiv last night.
The victors are viewed as the weaker of those two sides. It looks as if benign territory could lie ahead. Van Bronckhorst seems to have given up the ghost. Asked if the big clubs should play in a league of their own, he replied: ‘In a way they already are. We won’t be in this competition for much longer.’
When the time comes there will more pressure than ever on City.
For now, Guardiola can reflect on the old Dutch methods.
‘You grew up with the best moments of your life in the 70s,’ he told a local journalist. ‘Your past is so big, an outstanding past.’
Guardiola is only looking ahead.
Stones makes terrific connection with his head to fire home the fourth City goal of the evening