Pep Guardiola hailed Raheem Sterling as an “extraordinary” talent after his 11-minute second-half hat-trick helped Manchester City demolish Atalanta and maintain their 100% start in Champions League Group C.
City still have defensive difficulties
Earlier this week Guardiola called on his side to be more clinical in front of goal if they are to go deep into the competition this season, but it is their displays at the back that should be a more pressing concern.
Although he had two centre-halves on his bench in the shape of Stones and Nicolas Otamendi, Guardiola opted to play with three at the back against Atalanta, with a converted midfielder, Fernandinho, at the heart of his new-look backline and Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy on either side.
Rodri and Gundogan were supposed to give protection in the centre of midfield but the experiment did not work, with Atalanta finding all sorts of space down both flanks.
By the time the Italian side took the lead, City had already survived one scare when Robin Gosens escaped down the left and Timothy Castagne headed over from six yards.
A better team would have punished City, and Guardiola must go back to the drawing board to find the answer at the back, while any absence to Rodri will also give him a problem to solve in midfield.
Foden ‘will learn’, says Guardiola
Guardiola emphatically ruled out punishing Foden for his red card, the first of his fledgling career, instead focusing on his impressive performance in midfield before he was sent off.
“Will I fine him? Absolutely not,” Guardiola said. “I have never fined a player except for when they did stupid things but for this part of the game, absolutely not. Maybe I should pay him, because of how well he played.
“The important thing with Phil is not the red card, it is the way he played. We know it – he can do it – and he played so good, at a high level.
“Now he will know after having one yellow card that he has to be more careful for the second but this experience is good and it is going to help him.
“People say ‘you have to play him more minutes, more minutes’. Yes I want him to play but there are still things like this where he is far away from David Silva, Ilkay Gundogan or Kevin de Bruyne.
“He will learn. He has to live this kind of situation to understand that, with a yellow card, he has to be careful. Because the result was 5-1 it was OK, but if the score is 2-1 or 3-2 it can be difficult.”
Man of the match: Raheem Sterling
It is back to the Premier League for City and they can narrow the gap on leaders Liverpool to three points – for 24 hours at least – when they host Aston Villa at 12:30 BST on Saturday.