Leroy Sane felt Manchester City rediscovered their verve as they overcame a slow start against Hoffenheim to claim top spot in their Champions League group.
City were knocked off the top of the Premier League as they suffered their first domestic defeat of the season at Chelsea last weekend and the hangover initially seemed to carry over into Wednesday’s outing.
The German side created some good early chances at the Etihad Stadium and took an early lead with a penalty from former Leicester striker Andrej Kramaric.
That sparked City into life and they responded by hitting the woodwork twice through Gabriel Jesus and Nicolas Otamendi before two goals from Sane secured first place in Group F. City created numerous other chances and should have won more convincingly than 2-1.
“At the beginning maybe we were a little bit sleepy but at the end we did it really good,” said Sane. “We woke up and played really good football. I am happy, especially with the way we played altogether.”
All of City’s best chances in the first half came from set-pieces with Sane equalising from a stunning free-kick on the stroke of half-time. Due to a spate of injuries, City had no obvious specialists from the 25-yard distance on the field when the 22-year-old stepped up.
“I think in my professional career I have never scored a free-kick,” said Sane. “I thought this was the moment and I just tried it.”
Sane paid tribute to team-mate Raheem Sterling for his involvement in his second, which came from a quick counter-attack.
He said: “I thought Raheem was running in space and I wanted to give him the ball so he could go one-on-one.
“But he’s got good vision, a good eye, and he saw the run coming and passed again to me. I just had to tap in the ball. It was a really good goal.”
Sane, however, could have had a hat-trick had he not passed up a shooting chance on another lightning break from deep. Again Sterling played in Sane but he opted to pass inside to Bernardo Silva, who was denied by goalkeeper Oliver Baumann.
Sane said: “I just regret we didn’t score the goal. It was three against just the goalkeeper.
“I thought I would pass to Bernardo and he would just have to tap the ball in but my eye wasn’t as good as Raheem’s.
“I think it would have been better if I’d just shot the ball in but at the end we are all happy we won.”
Leroy Sane scored twice as City came from behind to beat the Bundesliga outfit 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday and secure top spot in Group F.
Highly-rated teenager Foden shone in midfield, particularly as City took firm charge of the game in the second half, having been given a long-awaited opportunity by Guardiola following a spate of injuries.
The 18-year-old almost got on the scoresheet himself when he forced a fine save from Oliver Baumann with a fierce left-foot volley.
Guardiola said: “Phil was incredible, the way he played.
“I would never have doubts about the quality of that guy. It is not just the quality with the ball. He looks skinny, not strong, but he’s really, really strong.
“He’s an outstanding young player, a huge talent. I think England has a diamond.
“He’s special, he has had minutes and in the future will have a lot of them. He played like a real man. He played so good.”
Phil Foden's performance in the second half against Hoffenheim confirmed his huge promise. The way he took the ball under pressure, always looking to attack. The strength to compete. The technique, including a volley tipped over. "England have a diamond," Guardiola said. #mcfc— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) December 12, 2018
Hoffenheim took an early lead with a penalty from former Leicester striker Andrej Kramaric but City responded well and hit the woodwork twice before Sane equalised with a brilliant free-kick.
Sane secured victory just after the hour as he took one of several chances City created that could have made the win even more comfortable.
Germany international Sane, who may have been keen to prove a point to an audience from his homeland, did receive some abuse from visiting fans. After the weekend’s incident involving Raheem Sterling, this did attract some attention but there was no suggestion it was racial.
Asked about the matter, Guardiola said: “I don’t know if anything happened. If it happened it’s bad news but I don’t know.”
Going through to the last 16 as group winners will assure City of a better seeding in Monday’s draw.
Guardiola said: “Before they scored we were flat, they were better, but after the penalty we were normal and created a lot of chances.
“We finished group stage in the best way. We’re in the best 16 teams in Europe.
“It’s a big compliment to everyone involved in the group because it was tough. It’s more difficult in the Champions League because the opponents are so much better. If you sleep a little bit you are in Europa League.
“All our teams are there and it’s really good for the Premier League.”
Guardiola added that John Stones was withdrawn at half-time due to a “little problem” in his knee.
Hoffenheim finished bottom of the group with three points from three draws but, having reached this stage for the first time, coach Julian Nagelsmann was pleased with his players’ showing.
He said: “I’m proud of the way we have played in the Champions League. As a newcomer to the Champions League, we’ve played well. We’ve done a lot for the club and we hope to do more of this in the future.”
Raheem Sterling returned to action for Manchester City in their Champions League clash against Hoffenheim at the Etihad Stadium.
Here, we take a closer look at the performance of the England forward, who was on the end of alleged racist abuse from a section of Chelsea supporters in Saturday’s Premier League game at Stamford Bridge and accused newspapers of helping to “fuel racism” with the way in which they portray young black footballers.
There was little evidence of Saturday’s events having an impact on the approach of the 24-year-old. Sterling was all smiles during the warm-up and got straight into the action early on, only to find himself flattened after running into Hoffenheim captain Benjamin Hubner as he darted into the penalty area. The England international, voted the Premier League Player of the Month for November, soon dusted himself down to go again, but often found himself doubled-up against as he looked to make an impact from the right. Saw the funny side when City somehow failed to score from his counter-attack after sprinting almost the length of the field during the second half.
Sterling remained a key part of City’s fluid frontline, helping in the transition from midfielders Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan. Provided usual outlet down the flanks, which stretched the Germans as both Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus made the most of the extra space. Sterling sprinted clear from a corner, and opted to unselfishly square for Sane, who then laid it off for Silva, but the keeper saved. It was, though, not long before Sterling’s clever play did help make the breakthrough as he played a neat one-two with Sane to help set up City’s crucial second goal on the hour.
No real opportunities came Sterling’s way during the first half as City looked to get themselves back on terms after trailing to an early penalty from Andrej Kramaric. Continued to remain dangerous in attack, and with hindsight may well have taken on his counter-attack chance himself. When another big moment came later in the second half following Foden’s vision, Sterling got his footing all wrong to knock the ball wide from six yards.