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Sterling ends year-long goal drought at fan-free Etihad

  • Manchester City 3 Arsenal 0

  • Sterling 44; de Bruyne 51 (pen) ; Foden 92

It didn’t feel like football to start with. Instead of names, the shirts bore the message Black Lives Matter. The players took a knee – there was talk of Marcus Rashford and how sport can change minds and lives.

Passes were a little hesitant at first, then became more confident. Runs became faster and triangles moved up and down the City left as the players found their touch, their feet and the pace of the game.

There were a few chances at either end and some promising City moves drew good saves from Arsenal ‘keeper. Leno The match was goalless until two minutes before half time.

Veteran Brazilian defender David Luiz, on as a first-half substitute, would show his error-prone side once more as a Kevin de Brune pass down the right bounced off his thigh and into the path of Raheem Sterling, scampering into the box behind him.

Manchester City's first match of the season was played without fans and on TV
City's first match of the season was played to an empty crowd with fans forced to watch on TV

He waited for the ball to drop and thumped it home for his strike of 2020.

Two minutes the other side of the restart, Luiz was again at the centre of events for City’s second, dragging down a far speedier Riyadh Mahrez for a ball in behind. A red card followed, and Luiz was gone.

It was a soft penalty which Kevin de Bruyne despatched confidently, but surely an error of judgment which means Luiz’s days in an Arsenal shirt are numbered.

At 2-0, with their opponents down to 10 men, this became more like a training ground match with only the piped crowd noise recalling games half-watched while doing something else. 

The important fights for City for the rest of this season will be in court as they appeal against their Champions League ban - and then in Lisbon, as the Champions League last eight resumes as a mini-tournament.

Football is back and City look much like the team they were. This Arsenal game was a good run-out for the players to clear their pipes and test their fitness.

 

It was much like any other match over by half-time played in front of no fans, but with sound effects. Sergio Aguero replaced Gabriel Jesus, to be greeted by a round of applause from the non-existent crowd.

Then 10 minutes from time City goalkeeper Ederson, who has become increasingly erratic, ran out of his box and flattened his own defender, Eric Garcia. An 11-minute delay followed before the young Spaniard was stretchered off. 

As a final flourish, a long Fernandinho pass set up a deadly combination of Sterling feeding Aguero, whose shot rebounded for Phil Foden to net the third. 

This was an odd occasion with a little of everything to test the new football normal; for the clubs, for the broadcasters and for fans at home to get used to live action again. In truth, it was a useful warm-up for one game that does matter.

Bring on Real Madrid.

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