Manchester City coasted into the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League after a comprehensive defeat of Schalke 04 at the Etihad on Tuesday.
As is the case with those two other Premier League clubs, the Sky Blues now have a busy-looking April as they fight on multiple fronts.
City’s schedule after the international break now looks as follows:
Saturday 30 March: Gameweek 32 – Fulham (a)
Wednesday 3 April: Possible Double Gameweek 32 fixture*
Saturday 6 April: Gameweek 33 – Cardiff City (h)*
Tue/Wed 9/10 April: UEFA Champions League quarter-final, first leg
Sunday 14 April: Gameweek 34 – Crystal Palace (a)
Tue/Wed 16/17 April: UEFA Champions League quarter-final, second leg
Saturday 20 April: Double Gameweek 35 – Tottenham Hotspur (h)
Wednesday 24 April: Double Gameweek 35 – Manchester United (a)
Sunday 28 April: Gameweek 36 – Burnley (a)
*Should Manchester City beat Swansea City in the FA Cup quarter-finals this weekend, then Guardiola’s side would have a Blank Gameweek 33 due to a clash with the semi-finals of that competition. The scheduled Premier League home match against Cardiff City could then be moved into Double Gameweek 32, though official word on that won’t be provided until next week. City already have a guaranteed Double Gameweek 35 involving Spurs and United.
Victory over the Swans would mean that City will play twice a week throughout the whole of April.
Should they then qualify for the semi-finals of the Champions League, that sequence would continue right the way through to Gameweek 38.
There could be plenty of rotation from Guardiola next month, then, though that possible Double Gameweek 32 against Fulham and Cardiff is a mouth-watering prospect regardless.
City’s seven-goal thrashing of Schalke is the focus of the rest of this article.
Manchester City 7-0 Schalke 04
- Goals: Sergio Aguero (£11.9m) x2, Leroy Sane (£9.3m), Raheem Sterling (£11.5m), Bernardo Silva (£7.5m), Phil Foden (£4.5m), Gabriel Jesus (£9.9m)
- Assists: Bernardo Silva x2, Raheem Sterling, Oleksandr Zinchenko (£4.7m), Leroy Sane x3.
Pep Guardiola had plenty to say about Leroy Sane (£9.3m) after the German winger’s performance against Schalke 04 at the Etihad.
Sane scored City’s third goal and registered a hat-trick of assists in the 7-0 demolition of the Bundesliga strugglers, which would have likely banked him 20 points in FPL had it been in a Premier League match.
Asked if that was the best display that Sane has delivered for a while, Guardiola said:
No. After the first goal, yes. Before, no. He was not aggressive enough in the first 20 minutes.
I like when he runs, is aggressive and goes. It doesn’t matter when he loses the ball. It is the same with Raheem [versus Watford], scored three goals, but the first half from Sterling last game was not good. Today was much better. But they are young, let’s not forget. These up and downs happen.
I know it is not easy for Leroy, he doesn’t play too much, the confidence always drops, but after 20 minutes he was outstanding, for the goal, the assists, the aggression.
He is a player we know has incredible qualities. It is difficult to find around the world a specific quality that he has.
Guardiola’s comments on Sane were similar in tone to the ones he provided on Sterling after the Gameweek 30 victory over Watford and it won’t be the last time that he seeks to rein in his young players’ egos after a starring role.
Sane was undeniably excellent, though, producing a superb curling pass to set up Raheem Sterling‘s (£11.5m) goal, demonstrating vision to cut the ball back to Bernardo Silva (£7.5m) for City’s fifth and then playing in substitute Phil Foden (£4.5m) for his third assist of the game.
Sane had earlier got on the scoresheet himself when latching onto Oleksandr Zinchenko‘s (£4.7m) beautifully weighted through-ball and could have added to his tally: the Germany international screwed a 51st-minute shot wide when one on one with Schalke goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann and then saw a goal chalked off for a marginal offside call soon after.
The sight of Sane regularly dashing in behind his opposing full-back evoked memories of when the German was at his best earlier this season and those attributes would seem ideally suited for when City play Fulham in Gameweek 32, if the evidence of the Cottagers’ defeat to Leicester on Saturday – and the performance of Denis Odoi (£4.4m) at right-back – was anything to go by.
Sane will no doubt be afforded more pitch-time in April but how much of it remains open to debate.
Guardiola has latterly favoured Bernardo in a front three with Sterling and Sergio Aguero (£11.9m), though the Portuguese midfielder was forced back into central midfield in Gameweek 30 and again last night due to the injuries picked up by Kevin De Bruyne (£9.7m) and Fernandinho (£5.3m).
Even on Saturday at the Etihad, Guardiola opted for Riyad Mahrez (£8.2m) over the German wide-man to fill the void left by Bernardo’s move back to midfield.
Once De Bruyne and Fernandinho are fit after the international break and Bernardo is free to resume a role further forward, the chances of Sane becoming a regular Premier League starter again are diminished.
Still, the way Sane rolled back the months alongside Aguero and Sterling would have provided his manager with food for thought.
The Argentinean striker scored City’s first two goals on Tuesday evening, converting from the penalty spot after Bernardo had been blocked off and then squeezing a shot past Fahrmann following an excellent backheel from Sterling.
The premium FPL forward had earlier hit the woodwork after more fine work from Sterling down the right.
Aguero, along with David Silva (£8.5m), was then handed a breather in the final half-hour as Gabriel Jesus (£9.9m) came off the bench to score City’s seventh.
Sterling, back on the right flank after scoring a hat-trick from the left wing against Watford, was again superb and got a deserved goal – after VAR intervention – to put City 4-0 up.
Sterling and Sane created eight chances between them, while City’s starting front three racked up a combined ten shots on goal.
Reflecting on his side’s display, Guardiola said:
We didn’t start that well – we were a little bit scared to play – but after it went 1-0, the team relaxed and decided to play and be aggressive.
We started the first 20-25 minutes thinking more to not lose what we achieved in Germany. That was why we didn’t over-attack.
It was never the intention to be aggressive against the full-backs. It was: let’s not lose the ball.
But we didn’t lose what we achieved and that’s why we didn’t know what to do after the first goal. It was an excellent pass by Bernardo and then Gundogan, and then in the mind of the players, qualification is almost done. After we play at a good, good level.
Bernardo and Ilkay Gundogan (£5.4m) were impressive again in midfield, while Zinchenko once more caught the eye at left-back.
City’s defence again had precious little to do – Schalke could only muster two shots, just one of which was on target.
Having been on the bench against Watford, Aymeric Laporte (£5.9m) completed his return from injury with a 72-minute showing at centre-back.
With Nicolas Otamendi (£6.0m) suspended, Fernandinho sidelined, John Stones (£5.2m) only fit enough for a place on the bench and veteran Vincent Kompany (£5.2m) missing out with a minor injury, Danilo (£5.0m) played alongside Laporte at centre-half.
We have a lot of absences today, a lot of central defenders, with Vinny [Kompany], with Nico [Otamendi], with John [Stones]. ‘Dinho can play in that position, was injured too.
We had just Danilo, I want to praise him because he was incredible. When he plays left-back, don’t complain, right-back, don’t complain, play holding midfielder last minutes against Chelsea, don’t complain, playing central defender, don’t complain.
Manchester City XI (4-3-3): Ederson; Danilo, Walker, Laporte (Delph 72′), Zinchenko; Bernardo Silva, Gundogan, Silva (Foden 64′); Sterling, Aguero (Jesus 64′), Sane.