September 15, 2016 10:29:05 am
A 24-hour delay couldn’t put prolific Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero off his stride in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Aguero scored a hat trick to lead City to a 4-0 win over Borussia Moenchengladbach in their rescheduled Group C opener that was washed out Tuesday because of torrential rain before kickoff at Etihad Stadium.
The Argentina international is compiling some impressive numbers under new coach Pep Guardiola this season: Nine goals in five games; two hat tricks so far in the Champions League, with the other coming in the playoff round against Steaua Bucharest.
So, too, is Guardiola. This was City’s seventh straight win to open the Spaniard’s coaching tenure and his team’s attacking intensity was too much for Moenchengladbach to handle.
Kelechi Iheanacho – a late replacement for Aguero – added a fourth goal for City, which did its best to keep pace with group rival Barcelona, a day after the Spanish side thrashed Celtic 7-0.
There were positives all over the field for City, perhaps no more so than the sight of Ilkay Gundogan running midfield on his debut following an offseason move from Borussia Dortmund. It was the Germany international’s first game since April, when he dislocated his right kneecap, and he slotted right into Guardiola’s team – much to the coach’s surprise.
But that couldn’t take the limelight from Aguero, who was back in the team amid a three-match domestic suspension for elbowing an opponent during a Premier League game. He tapped in the opening goal from Aleksandar Kolarov’s low cross in the ninth minute, converted a penalty in the 28th after Gundogan was tripped, and completed his hat trick by rounding the goalkeeper in a one-on-one chance set up by Raheem Sterling in the 77th minute.
Ever the perfectionist, Guardiola said that if Aguero worked harder for the team, even more goals will come his way.
“I wanted to convince Sergio that his talent in the box to score goals is natural – I cannot teach him that,” Guardiola said. “But he has to know that behind there is a team that’s going to help him, if he’s going to help, and that is what I want to convince him.
“OK, the goals will come along. But if he can help us in that way, he’s going to score a lot of goals.”
Aguero’s early goals quietened a reduced contingent of Moenchengladbach fans who had stayed on an extra day to support their team. Some of them had slept in a coach at the Etihad overnight and when they got to their seats for Wednesday’s hastily rearranged match, they found an absence letter – drafted and signed by the club’s sporting director, Max Eberl – that could be given to the fans’ employers to explain why they might have missed work.
The German club had its moments, such as when captain Lars Stindl brought a great save from City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo from a well-worked corner routine late in the first half. But the visitors couldn’t stifle City’s attacking threat and conceded chance after chance in the final minutes.
“The whole team knew what to expect. It’s not untypical of City,” Moenchengladbach coach Andre Schubert said. “We knew they’d press us high, particularly the first 25 minutes, and exert their power on us.
“We have to play to our limits. We had to get everything right, be very courageous, attack high up with high intensity. We didn’t manage to do that.”
City reached the Champions League semifinals for the first time last season, losing to eventual champion Real Madrid, and Guardiola spoke in his program notes about creating history at a club that has never won Europe’s top trophy.
“The next step with this club is to be there every single season, quarterfinal, semifinal and maybe in the final,” Guardiola said. “It is not the point to arrive once and after disappear.”
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