Man City book ticket to UCL Round of 16 with ease

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MANCHESTER, England — Manchester City trailed Young Boys at halftime on Tuesday and their UEFA Champions League group stage campaign is over and dusted after just four games.

Pep Guardiola will be looking to secure top spot by winning the group but 12 points so far from a possible 12 means, for the 11th consecutive year, City will be keen on the knockout rounds in the new year.

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Having reached the semi-finals in each of the last three years, getting out of their group will be seen as the first small hurdle on the way to big things but the trophy run has to start somewhere. Watching Guardiola’s side, it’s tempting to think that the big teams should always cruise through the group but less than an hour before kick-off at the Etihad Stadium, Barcelona were beaten by Shakhtar Donetsk in Group H.

City are one of only three teams with a 100% record in this season’s group stage and are the first team to qualify for the Round of 16. You won’t bet on being the last team standing after the final at Wembley Stadium. June, yes.

“Of course, we’re incredibly happy to qualify with two games to go,” said Guardiola. “People say ‘yeah, group stage, it’s easy’, but you have to do it. In life, you have to do it when people expect it from you.

“Sometimes we have to fight the tendency of people to think about us. The important thing is that it happens when people say we are worthy. The job is not done, we have to finish first. [in the group] And the last 16 have the second leg at home. We have a job to do but the first phase of qualifying is done. “I was really impressed.”

After beating the Young Boys 3-1 in Switzerland two weeks ago, the return leg was effectively over when Phil Foden rounded Ulises Garcia to put City 2-0 up in first-half stoppage time.

Erling Haaland had already scored from the penalty spot 20 minutes earlier and Guardiola felt comfortable enough to replace John Stones with Nathan Ake. Chelsea play City at Stamford Bridge on Sunday and ahead of the game, Rodri, Bernardo Silva and Julian Alvarez have all been given the night off.

Haaland was not supposed to be fit after picking up an ankle problem in Saturday’s 6-1 win over Bournemouth but felt well enough to score the third goal just after half-time. At that point, any hope of a comeback for the Swiss champions was over but to further ram the point, Sandro Lauper was shown a second yellow card and sent off.

With his side 3-0 down and a man light, manager Raphael Wikki Haaland was pleased to see him depart early, although Mauricio Pochettino can now win at the thought of the well-rested Norwegian at Chelsea at the weekend. Haaland hasn’t received the same acclaim he did this time last year, but the now 23-year-old has scored 15 goals in 17 games this season.

“Whether it’s the six-yard box or the 18-yard box, he has talent,” Guardiola said. “We saw that in the training session [on Monday] How he moved and how happy he was. He feels good, so it’s okay. He played, the work was almost done and so he rested for the following Sunday.

“We lack a little today, sweet or soft [approach] Last touch or action in the 18-yard box. There, we were not good enough but the rest were really good.

“Consistency is the word that defines this group of players over the years. We have high standards and that is why we are still in the Premier League and have qualified from the Champions League.”

The worry for the Premier League and the rest of Europe is that City are starting to put their foot down. After three defeats in four matches now five wins in a row. They went six matches without a clean sheet in September and October and now have two in their last three matches.

City were so in control against the Young Boys that the visitors didn’t have a shot on target. They could not gather a single corner. But there was no shame in dominating the Etihad as City extended their winning streak at home to 23 matches. Sunderland are the only top-flight team in the history of English football to have such a long run and achieved this more than 130 years ago between 1890 and 1892.

City, who haven’t lost a Champions League game at home since 2018, are making things look easy. Tough tests are coming but they are clicking into gear.

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