Atalanta 1-5 Man City: Talking points as Raheem Sterling soars, but Pep Guardiola baffles

Matt Jones - Editor 09:06 23/10/2019
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Raheem Sterling shone for Manchester City as they overturned an early 1-0 deficit to crush Atalanta 5-1 and take asignificant step towards the Champions League knockout stages.

The hosts started slowly and a bright start from the Serie A side was rewarded when Josip Ilicic fell under Fernandinho’s challenge and Ruslan Malinovskyi confidently converted from the spot.

They weren’t behind for long though and Sergio Aguero flicked in Sterling’s cross before coolly despatching his own penalty after Sterling had been clipped by Andrea Masiello.

The home side took control after the break and Sterling got the goal his work had deserved when he smashed home after brilliant work from Kevin De Bruyne. In fact he got two more – a hat-trick in just 11 minutes as he continued to press home his credentials to be considered one of football’s most elite players. He then started and finished the move to make it 4-1 before flicking in Mahrez’s cross.

RAHEEM IS A DREAM

There was a time when we wondered whether Raheem Sterling would ever fulfil his potential or serve as a cautionary tale to a career that might have been – destined to be mentioned for eternity in the same breadth as Bojan Krkic, Josh McEachran and Freddy Adu.

Now he deserves to be mentioned in the same rarefied air as elite talents Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Mohamed Salah – not quite, but not far off, the very elite.

He flitted from the flamboyant to the frustrating at Liverpool and even his first few seasons at City weren’t that promising as he struggled to hone his natural skill and speed and transform into a genuine top-class footballer.

We are no longer wondering. Sterling is one of the world’s best and is nearing that pinnacle of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and certainly among the best in the chasing pack clawing their coattails.

Sterling started the night slowly, then, when City belatedly fired into life, laid on a sublime cross for Aguero to equalise. He then won the penalty from which the Argentine scored his second. We all wondered how long it would take him to net his hat-trick – except it was Sterling who did so, in just 11 minutes to be precise.

It was, quite unbelievably, his fourth treble for City… this year, the fifth of his career, a first in the Champions League. That’s four hat-tricks in his last 35 appearances for City, and the 81st goal of his career.

A special performance. A special player.

FROM FAIRYTALE TO NIGHTMARE

Atalanta

When Atalanta qualified for the Champions League for the first time in club history last season, it was one of those feel-good football fairytales that warms the hearts of any fan. A third-placed finish in Serie A was their best-ever league finish too.

But it has quickly turned into a nightmare this term for Gian Piero Gasperini’s side, who are essentially out of the competition after only three group games. In truth, the death knell was sounded on matchday one following a dispiriting and alarming 4-0 hammering in Zagreb by Dinamo.

They then ceded the lead at home to fall to a 2-1 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk in stoppage time. And after such a heavenly finish to 2018/19, La Dea (The Goddess) are plummeting back to earth in the early months of 2019/20.

Their misery was compounded in Manchester as a fine start brought a deserved lead through Malinovskyi’s calmly taken penalty.

It’s difficult to criticise a team who come to an away ground against one of Europe’s giants knowing they’re going to be played off the park, particularly when they don’t sit back and frustrate, but flurry forward.

But we were expecting so much more after a mesmerising journey that got them here, particularly in a Group C that would have appeared inviting when the draw was made.

Still, the team based in the alpine city of Bergamo will learn a lot from their campaign. They are in third place once again in Serie A with seven wins from eight games, trailing only Juventus and Inter Milan.

The Goddess are in good shape for another appearance at Europe’s top table next season.

NO DEFENCE FOR THE DEFENCE

Stones

Pep Guardiola is a managerial genius, no-one argues that. One of the best of this generation, possibly one of the best ever.

Any yet, some of his decisions baffle. Like partnering Fernandinho and Rodri in defence when he had recognised centre-backs John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi on the bench. Even more confusing, he brought both of them on.

Now, of course, there are extenuating circumstances. Stones is coming back from a lengthy injury. Otamendi travelled far during the international break with Argentina and suffered a knock.

Are they being slowly integrated back in, or is Guardiola making a point about City’s lacklustre and sloppy start to the season defensively – they were poor in defeat to Norwich and Wolves.

Even so, setting up with two central midfielders at the heart of defence just to make a point seemed redundant. Especially when you have to bring both of the orthodox defenders on. Rodri pulled up with a hamstring strain while Otamendi replaced De Bruyne with the game won.

Then there’s the Spaniard’s little idiosyncrasies, that once used to make him unique and colourful. But now are starting to grate, even on City fans.

He was seen to admonish Stones on the City bench in the first half, seemingly for not getting ready in time. He was seen slamming a seat and shouting at Stones in a sudden fit of rage, perhaps annoyed the England man hadn’t read the situation.

We know he’s tactically brilliant, but also unnecessarily eccentric, now to the point of annoyance.

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Juventus 2-1 Lokomotiv Moscow: Talking points as Paulo Dybala makes case to start regularly

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Paulo Dybala scored twice in three minutes to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat for Juventus on Tuesday night.

There Champions League clash with Lokomotiv Moscow at home suffered a setback when Aleksey Miranchuk took advantage of some slack defending to break the deadlock half an hour into proceedings.

Juve were being frustrated by a stubborn away side but a moment of magic from Dybala drew them level in the 77th minute. Afforded a little space outside the area, the Argentine didn’t hesitate as he curled a delightful effort past the hapless Guilherme in goal.

A stinging Alex Sandro shot from range a couple of minutes later was pushed away by the keeper but only into the path of Dybala who made no mistake.

HOW DO YOU BENCH A PLAYER LIKE DYBALA

It’s no secret that Maurizio Sarri was willing to let Dybala leave Juventus during the summer transfer window but on a few occasions this season, he must’ve been glad that possibility didn’t pan out.

The Argentine is among the most talented footballers in world football but given the illustrious personnel at Juventus’ disposal and Sarri’s affinity to the 4-3-3 system, he has not been an automatic start this term.

Instead, he’s had to prove his worth, earn his right to don the black and white stripes and so he did again against Lokomotiv.

Faced with a stubborn defence, even Cristiano Ronaldo with his eight efforts at goal looked incapable of breaching it along with the rest of the Juve attack.

The situation called for a moment of magic and so Dybala wielded his wand of a left foot. After bringing the ball under his spell, he cast it into the far corner and left the keeper feeling tricked. He showed alertness and poise to then bag the winner soon after.

Great players change games – even win them – in the blink of an eye. And they have no business being on the bench.

Paulo Dybala

SARRI’S SYSTEM

After stubbornly persisting with his favoured 4-3-3 formation during his season with Chelsea, Sarri has experimented with a 4-3-1-2 at Juventus, deploying it against Lokomotiv as well.

It didn’t work and his reluctance to change it at some point was concerning. Against a team that played a back five, a low midfield block and remained as compact as possible, adding to the congestion in the middle was not effective.

Juve needed width and Federico Bernadeschi could’ve been the answer by stretching the defence and creating a little more space to operate in.

Meanwhile, Ronaldo and Dybala neither provided a focal point up front nor drifted wide to stretch the back line. Gonzalo Higuain should’ve come on sooner.

Ultimately, this too will be swept under the rug thanks to Dybala’s heroics.

LOKOMOTIV CREDIT

They didn’t get the result they wanted but the Russian side must be commended for their efforts.

They employed the kind of tactics that afforded them the best chance to take something away from the game and are growing increasingly proficient in their game plan.

Against Bayer Leverkusen, they only had 22 per cent possession but managed to sneak a win. Lokomotiv have learned how to frustrate their opponents and are frighteningly clinical when presented with their own opportunities.

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Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane buoyed by win over Galatasaray

Press Association Sport 07:45 23/10/2019
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Zinedine Zidane said he was “delighted” to achieve a 1-0 win over Galatasaray after recent criticism of his Real Madrid side.

Toni Kroos scored the only goal in his 100th Champions League appearance to lift Los Blancos off the bottom of Group A.

A loss to Paris St-Germain, a draw with Club Brugge, and a La Liga defeat to Mallorca on Saturday had put pressure on both Zidane’s side and his position, with Jose Mourinho linked to the job.

Speaking after the win in Istanbul, Zidane told the Real Madrid website: “I’m delighted for the whole team because there’s been a lot of criticism, it’s not an easy place to come to and we showed good character.

“It’s important to win when you play every three days and tonight we were focused right from the off.

“We created a lot of chances after some really good moves and I would have liked to have seen us get a second and even a third because that would have meant that the opposition would have eased off in terms of their pressing.

“At 1-0 they still believed they could level things up right until the end, but we were focused from the first minute until the last.

“We worked hard and were strong and that’s what got us the win.”

Zidane’s side were knocked off top spot in La Liga by Barcelona after Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Mallorca but responded with a crucial win, which could have been by a wider margin had it not been for Galatasaray goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.

Muslera made a string of outstanding saves to keep Galatasaray in the tie, while the Turkish side were not without their chances.

Casemiro headed Rodrygo’s early cross just wide and Galatasaray’s on-loan Brighton forward Florin Andone fired straight at Thibaut Courtois after being sent clear by Younes Belhanda.

Andone forced Courtois into a better save, low in the bottom corner, but after efforts from Rodrygo and Karim Benzema had tested Muslera, Real took an 18th-minute lead.
Eden Hazard cut the ball back inside the area and Kroos scored off a deflected shot, which flew into the top corner and silenced the partisan home fans.

The win lifts Madrid past Brugge and Galatasaray into second place with four points, while Paris-St Germain maintained their 100% record with a 5-0 win in Belgium.

Provided by Press Association Sport

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