As the game went past the half hour mark, the silence at the Etihad was deafening. You began to wonder if this was going to be one of those frustrating nights for City. At this point, i was thinking about that 2018-19 season, when Liverpool gave up that huge lead in February. The situation was more tense than what most people would like to believe. With Liverpool having to play us and having a game in hand, dropping points here meant that our lead would effectively be wiped out.
Sterling displayed both his absolute best and worst qualities
Raheem Sterling is at his absolute best when he pushes the ball forward and runs in behind the opposition defense. He did that exceptionally well yesterday. There were moments when Sterling was unplayable. Our first goal was all about his initiative to run in behind with the ball fearlessly. Up until the final third, all his actions made us stand on our feet.
The cat is thrown among the pegions as Sterling enters the box. It was frustration for all of the City fans. There was a moment in the first half when Cancelo and Sterling play a one two with each other and Sterling is away. For some strange reason, Sterling waits for an eternity in the box and refuses to shoot. I was scratching my head as to why Sterling didn’t shoot there. These things could come to haunt us in big Champions League knockouts when chances come at a big premium.
Cancelo is no full back
You look at Cancelo and think that it is almost a crime to play him in the full back Position. He is so good that he can play in any of the attacking positions for City. There was a moment in the second half when Cancelo cut inside and went past 3 players in the box. Even highly skilled wingers struggle to do that. All of his attacking positions and his shots were very good. The only surprise for me is that he ended up without an assist or a goal for the night.
Workrate from De Bruyne was out of this world
The amount of times De Bruyne found himself at the left back and right back positions was astounding to see. There was a moment in the second half when the Brentford striker was away and he was one on one with Stones, suddenly you see someone from the back come at great speed and pinch the ball away. There were at least 4-5 occasions when De Bruyne showed this kind of extreme work rate. It is this kind of commitment and passion that makes us stand out from the rest of the league. As Pep Guardiola always says, the best teams are great at doing the dirty work and putting in the hard yards
Starting Stones over Walker was a big surprise
Brentford were playing deep, but they were breaking at us with great numbers. This was one of the reasons why we were not able to play as much a high line as Pep would have liked. City did not have great pace at all and when you couple that with the intent of Brentford to flush numbers forward at every opportunity to break, you can see the reasons why City’s defense was always living with the fear of that ball in behind.
I can understand Pep’s intention to play Stones and control the midfield, but this strategy would have been perfect if you were playing against an attack with no pace. We literally had to play the offside trap perfectly every time and put Sterling as the spare man on corners to prevent the break. For me, this was a big blunder from Pep and would have been costly on an other day. Playing Walker gives you that defensive assurance and allows other to express themselves much better.
This was not a perfect performance from City, and there were tactical blunders from Pep and uncharacteristic mistakes from our players, but we showed the personality and character of Champions to get the result even when everything was going against us.