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Manchester City’s record demolition of Sporting a clear message to Champions League rivals

The focus may have been on PSG-Madrid, but Man City's emphatic 5-0 rout of Sporting in Lisbon will make all their UCL rivals sit up and take notice.

Manchester City put on a show on the opening night of the Champions League knockout rounds, winning 5-0 and sending a reminder to the rest of Europe that they are favourites to lift the trophy in Saint Petersburg in May for a reason.

The last-16 tie with Sporting Lisbon was over after 30 minutes when Phil Foden dinked in City’s third goal.

Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva had already found the net and before the Serbian referee had managed to blow his half-time whistle, Silva, his every touch booed thanks to his links with Benfica, scored a fourth.

City became first team to score four goals in the first half of a Champions League tie. Game over. Job done.

– ESPN+: UCL chat and more on ESPN FC Daily (U.S. only)

When Raheem Sterling made it 5-0 with a goal which moved him into City’s top-10 goalscorers of all-time, there was still more than half an hour to play. The only incentive for Sporting to turn up in Manchester in three weeks’ time is to try to avoid the 12-1 aggregate defeat they suffered to Bayern Munich the last time they reached the knockout rounds in 2009.

“It’s just a game with a fantastic result. We have one more game to be in the quarterfinals and this is what you want.”

The reigning champions of Portugal were swept aside in almost dismissive fashion.

There were probably more eyes on the stars of Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid facing off 1,000 miles north east in the French capital but the strength that Guardiola has created is in collective brilliance rather than a reliance on individual moments of genius — although there were bits of that too with Bernardo’s volley to make it 2-0 and Sterling’s exquisite 20-yard strike in the second half.

The focus may have been on PSG-Madrid, but Man City’s emphatic 5-0 rout of Sporting in Lisbon will make all their UCL rivals sit up and take notice.

Speaking ahead of the game, Guardiola called it “harmony” and everything was in tune here.

City arrived at Jose Alvalade Stadium for the pandemic-affected Champions League mini tournament in 2020 having put out Real Madrid in the last round but conspired to shoot themselves in the foot in the quarterfinals with an inexplicable 3-1 defeat to Lyon.

The Champions League sometimes does strange things to Guardiola, like starting the final against Chelsea without a defensive midfielder.

There were no problems this time, but there is still a long way to go and better teams to come.

You only knew Ederson was on the pitch because it was impossible to miss his garish pink kit.

“Some players underperformed and we lost easy balls but we were so clinical,” he said. “The difference between the two teams is not 5-0 but we were so clinical. We punished them.

“There is one rule in football when you have the ball and that’s not to lose it. We had some simple passes that we lost. Against the top sides in Europe we would be punished.

“The players know me and the way we work that we can do better. I’m incredibly happy, please don’t misunderstand me, but we can do better.”

PSG, Real Madrid and every other team with Champions League ambitions this season can consider themselves warned.