The talking points as Manchester City faced Young Boys at the Wankdorf Stadium in the Champions League.
Haaland emphatically ends another drought
Erling Haaland hadn’t scored in his previous six European matches for Manchester City, and it looked like his goalless run may continue at Young Boys when he spurned three good chances on a frustrating night in general for City’s attackers. When Rodri was tapped on the ankle for a fortunate penalty, Haaland was never going to miss for his first Champions League goal of the season from his 16th shot. (Although he almost did as he went for power down the middle rather than placement.)
A smart assist for Julian Alvarez was chalked off for a handball in the build-up, which would have given him a third of last season’s assist total after just 14 games. Still, while he remained frustrated with his finishing, his second goal looked like it was scored by a player full of confidence as he shifted the ball onto his right and curled into the top corner.
That is the beauty of Haaland. He always knows another chance is coming, and he is often favourite to score that chance. When he went off, he needed a prolonged chat with Pep Guardiola to cheer him up, looking glum despite his brace. That is bad news for Manchester United, up next, who will have to contend with a striker finding different ways to score, yet still angry with himself that he is missing the ‘easier’ chances.
Matheus Nunes sat on the bench against Brighton but was namechecked after the game by Pep Guardiola who said he could have started in a team he struggled to decide on. Nunes was given his start at Young Boys, playing in the advanced position behind Erling Haaland as Mateo Kovacic sat next to Rodri.
In the opening minutes, Nunes fired a close range effort straight at the goalkeeper, and later stumbled over a spill at the keeper’s feet to fail to take advantage on the goalline. He sent another well-placed effort over the bar in the second half. Guardiola won’t be too bothered about Nunes missing chances – by his own admission he isn’t in the team to score – but he may be a little disappointed by the midfielder’s sloppy link-up with Haaland and poor positioning.
Nunes got a warm embrace and chat from the manager as he was substituted, before seeing replacement Julian Alvarez immediately play a one-two with Haaland to score a goal which would be ruled out. Nunes’ poor performance and another good Alvarez cameo could consign the Portuguese to the bench for a spell when City return from Switzerland.
Another simple goal conceded
City fell behind in their first match of this Champions League group when Red Star beat the offside trap with a simple ball through the middle to finish one-on-one. In the second game, Leipzig levelled with a ball through the middle to finish one-on-one past Ederson. At Young Boys, the defence parted once again and Mescack Elia chipped a stranded Ederson. See a pattern?
Pep Guardiola will be mightily concerned to see a third goal conceded in the same fashion in three group games, especially on a night where his side created plenty of chances but struggled to be clinical in front of goal.
City should have been out of sight in the first half, missing at least six presentable chances, and then when they finally got themselves ahead they threw the lead away. Erling Haaland’s fortunate penalty earned three points – but the whole evening was made to look far harder than it should have been on the balance of play.
Eight starters confirmed for United?
Pep Guardiola said he would have made 11 changes to his side if he could in order to keep everyone happy, but maybe a more logical explanation for his seven changes were to rest some important legs ahead of Sunday’s derby at United. Ederson reclaimed his place, while Manu Akanji, Rodri, Jeremy Doku and Erling Haaland were the only starters against Brighton to keep their places.
Akanji is suspended for United, so the recalled Ruben Dias will surely keep his place alongside the rested John Stones. On the bench in Switzerland, Kyle Walker, Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden and Julian Alvarez would all be confident of starting at Old Trafford. Ederson, Rodri and Haaland are all effectively undroppable.
That leaves the left-back slot, and two wing positions up for grabs. Doku is in good form but his fitness isn’t guaranteed, while Jack Grealish has fallen out of favour. Could Mateo Kovacic, Matheus Nunes or Rico Lewis have forced their way into contention with good performances in Switzerland, too?
Dias takes the armband
Without the injured Kevin De Bruyne and rested Kyle Walker, it was Ruben Dias who led City out in Bern, seemingly confirming his place as the ‘third’ captain in the mysterious group of captains in the dressing room. Neither Walker nor Pep Guardiola will confirm who is the captain when all players are fit, but nights like this add a little more context to the hierarchy.
Rodri also started so we can assume that Dias is above the Spaniard in the pecking order, with the fifth and final captain Bernardo Silva also on the bench. As the newest member of the group, Bernardo is likely fifth-choice for the armband, so it seems Dias is once again behind Walker and ahead of Rodri.
This wasn’t the first time Dias had captained City, though, preferred to Walker and De Bruyne during the 2021/22 Champions League run and wearing the armband 15 times previously. As Guardiola says, City don’t need a definitive captain and rely on the group to lead itself, with strong personalities all over the pitch.