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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Ederson settles quickly, Delph amazes Guardiola and modest De Bruyne: Manchester City march on in the Champions League

As Sergio Aguero failed to equal the club's all-time record goalscorer, it was a night that saw other players shine, and De Bruyne of course.

Kevin De Bruyne, right, scored a stunning goal to open the scoring for Manchester City against Shakhtar Donetsk. Lee Smith / Reuters
Kevin De Bruyne, right, scored a stunning goal to open the scoring for Manchester City against Shakhtar Donetsk. Lee Smith / Reuters

It was supposed to be Sergio Aguero’s night. Instead the limelight lingered on men who would otherwise have been overlooked.

It was not a record-equalling occasion – Eric Brook remains Manchester City’s highest scorer after Aguero’s attempt to draw level with him on 177 goals foundered on a penalty save – but rather one to highlight quiet progress. A 2-0 defeat of Shakhtar Donetsk made this the first time City have won their opening two Uefa Champions League fixtures.

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“There are a lot of records that will happen in the future,” Pep Guardiola said. He was unconcerned by Aguero’s miss: a personal slice of history may come instead at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

So the Shakhtar game instead offered other talking points. John Stones alighted on the influence of a man who has prevented goals. Ederson has gone a month without conceding, while City have only let in three goals all season.

“It’s credit to him,” the defender said. "It's not easy coming from another country. It's a different culture, different language, and he's settled quickly. He's speaking to us on the pitch. He's a vocal presence and a presence as a person."

If Ederson has made goals a scarcity, another had experienced a personal shortage. Kevin de Bruyne struck 16 times in his debut campaign at the Etihad Stadium but had not scored any of City’s first 27 goals this season.

Their 28th, and his first, was sublime, whipped into the top corner to break the deadlock. The number highlights his shift from scorer to supplier, partly because he is often deployed in deeper roles.

But the Belgian’s versatility and creativity have been themes of his time under Guardiola; both were apparent as he reprised his occasional role on the right wing to set up Raheem Sterling when the Englishman should have scored. It was a reminder that few bend a cross with such accuracy as De Bruyne.

“I definitely think it's not my best game,” he said, his innate modesty clear. The alternative perspective is that De Bruyne’s standards have been so high that identifying his outstanding performance is no simple feat. It is apparent why City want to give him a pay rise and a lengthier contract.

It is also an indication of his stature that he is an automatic choice in a team where there is such competition for places. Bernardo Silva was the exciting summer signing, Sterling is the fourth highest scorer in the Premier League. They combined for the second against Shakhtar but Leroy Sane seems to bring more pace and potency than either.

He appears to be winning the three-way battle to complete the front trio against Chelsea. The more difficult decision is who accompanies him on the left flank. Full-back Benjamin Mendy travelled to Barcelona on Wednesday for scans on a knee injury that appears worse than City initially anticipated.

It may force Guardiola to enter the transfer market in January, and not for Alexis Sanchez. In the meantime, he identified four candidates to fill in for the Frenchman: Danilo, Fabian Delph, Fernandinho and Oleksandr Zinchenko, the 20-year-old Ukrainian who is yet to make his City debut.

Delph is now the man in possession, a player hailed by Guardiola for an “amazing game” against Shakhtar. “He wants to help and help,” the City manager added. “With the ball he is so clever like a midfield player.”

Delph, of course, is a midfielder by trade and one who almost joined Stoke last month. “My personal regret is he deserved more minutes last season,” Guardiola said. “This season I am sure he is going to play more often.” Opportunity beckons.