Chalk this one up as a triumph for Manchester City’s academy as well as Pep Guardiola’s ethos. A maiden Champions League goal for 19-year-old Cole Palmer came in a glorious cameo, but it followed a star turn from Phil Foden. Wonderful as a winger at Anfield, fantastic as a false nine in Belgium, he has illustrated both his versatility and his talent this month.
Maybe it summed up the City manager’s total football beliefs that Foden could be supposed striker and the outstanding individual without scoring while not one two City full-backs emerged as their most advanced player to find the net. While the elusive, creative Foden led Brugge a merry dance and Riyad Mahrez struck twice, the finishing touches to a dominant display came in part from Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker, each belying his defensive duties to emerge in the Club Brugge penalty area and take their chances with the assurance of far more regular scorers.
It meant City produced an emphatic response to their first defeat in 19 Champions League group-stage matches in Paris three weeks ago. In the process, they did something their conquerors then could not. Paris Saint-Germain had been held in Belgium. City excelled from the off, outclassing and out-passing Brugge. The 5-1 victory was so comfortable that Guardiola could take off Aymeric Laporte and Bernardo Silva before the hour mark and then remove Foden and Kevin de Bruyne soon afterwards.
City were already three goals to the good by then. A fourth soon followed: Palmer had only been on the pitch for 140 seconds when he met a pass from his fellow substitute Raheem Sterling and finished with precocious calm. Foden may represent the role model for him, the kid with potential who has gravitated to become a pivotal figure and he was crucial when City made the breakthrough.
They had two goals chalked off in the first quarter of an hour, with Jack Grealish’s deft lob ruled out for a push and Rodri’s tap-in disallowed because Laporte had been offside before finding him. Perhaps, with a more conventional centre forward, City would have had a penalty-box presence to convert one of a stream of inviting crosses but the vindication of a policy came with an example of how others can compensate for the absence of a striker.
Foden dropped deep into midfield to chip a pass over the Brugge defence. Cancelo made the run from left-back to become the most advanced player and nutmegged Simon Mignolet with a calm finish. Some of the home crowd threw drinks in the direction of the scorer while Guardiola applauded Foden for the assist. The lead was doubled when a slick passing move culminated in Stanley Nsoki tripping Mahrez just inside the box. The Algerian converted the penalty.
Then De Bruyne marked his return to Belgium by picking out the advancing Walker. His fine finish was the cue for a raft of substitutions and permitted Palmer to have his own golden moment. After Hans Vanaken scored a consolation goal for Brugge, Mahrez latched on to Fernandinho’s pass to score City’s fifth.