Sport

Joy for Rico Lewis as Manchester City recover to see off Sevilla

Rico Lewis should long remember a first ever Manchester City start because the boy from Bury fired in a sparkling equaliser on his full debut to become the second-youngest Englishman at 17 years old and 346 days to score in the Champions League.

Lewis, on the books at the club since he was eight, followed this with a hand-over-mouth celebration that suggested shock at registering. The goal teemed with intent, rifled in from close range, and was precisely what City needed on an evening when they struggled to burn along on all cylinders as they often do.

Pep Guardiola was delighted. “What a goal,” said City’s manager. “He’s a fantastic player, so intelligent. He understands everything. He made a fantastic goal and played really well. We don’t give presents here, he had to earn it. We felt he had something special. He has the idea to be better, wants to improve, he always open to new skills, is only 17 but he’s shown he can be with us. It depends on him now.”

Lewis’s intervention came on 52 minutes. Jude Bellingham is the only Englishman to score in this competition at a younger age. City’s second arrived 17 from the end when the excellent Julián Álvarez, deputising for the injured Erling Haaland, ran onto Kevin De Bruyne’s superb through ball and finished before, a little later, the Argentinian teed up Riyad Mahrez for the third.

City had won Group G anyway but this result further casts them as who to avoid in Monday’s last-16 draw. They can be matched with Paris Saint-Germain, Milan and Internazionale, Eintracht Frankfurt, Club Brugge and Leipzig. Asked if he cared who City face, the manager smiled. “We will be there. That is all that matters,” said Guardiola.

Lewis, at right-back, had dropped smoothly into the Guardiola way, tucking inside to help flood the midfield against opponents third-bottom in La Liga who had enjoyed victory three times all term. Guardiola, too, was instantly into his familiar in-game, Mr Intense routine from his near-permanent technical area vantage point, barking orders to Sergio Gómez regarding how the left-back should, too, rotate in-field.

Álvarez was peripheral at this juncture – a solitary flick his sole act and when Jorge Sampaoli’s men broke quickly there was a warning: suddenly Rafa Mir was sliding a cross-shot at Stefan Ortega from the right that required the German’s right hand to palm out. Mir then spurned a near-range header in what was a similar profligate manner to how Lewis had earlier sprayed wide: each should have tested the opposing keeper.

Ilkay Gündogan’s radar was calibrated better when shooting following a one-two with Phil Foden but a deflection pinged the ball out for a corner from which Mahrez should have tested the shaky Yassine Bounou rather than volleying high. These misses were soon dearly rued as City conceded amateurishly: Isco floated in a corner from the right and Gómez allowed Mir a free header and he steered past Ortega.

Sevilla, with zero to lose, were operating a high-pressing 3-4-3 that, combined with City’s lack of fizz, had them squarely in the contest. In a bid to try and inject energy into his team Guardiola scolded Rúben Dias while waving arms at the centre-back. The fruits of this were a Mahrez dance along the right and a blocked-off Jack Grealish effort. But lacking, still, was real menace plus the serial pulling apart of the Spaniards that is City’s calling card when in optimum rhythm.

As the interval neared, Guardiola prepared choice words to kickstart his men because, while this was a dead rubber, he hates to lose. What he also did was action a rejig: taking off Grealish for Rodri, his No 1 midfield fulcrum, with Foden moving wide and Gündogan shuffling up one central position to occupy the latter’s previous berth.

Two attempts – via Foden and Gómez – marked some early second-half promise and, following a Cole Palmer mis-control, City were level courtesy of Lewis’s strike. Álvarez, pouncing on a loose ball near the D, slipped him in and from a testing angle on the right he smashed past Bounou. Cue sheer and understandable delight from Lewis, his teammates, Guardiola and the home faithful and, at last, City were a whir of blue, pouring through Sevilla, as when Mahrez’s buccaneering run threatened their second.

Guardiola sent for more cavalry: Bernardo Silva’s trickery superseding Gündogan’s more simpler offering but at the sight of a rudimentary Foden punt towards Álvarez the manager’s disbelief had him blowing out cheeks.

His side’s firmer control was more pleasing, the ball being tapped about with ease as a way to dismantle Sevilla was sought. In this, Guardiola added the imperious De Bruyne plus Joshua Wilson-Esbrand, for the 19-year-old’s second senior appearance.

De Bruyne’s impact was instantaneous, creating for Álvarez, while Wilson-Esbrand’s involvement featured a Guardiola rollicking.

City roll on: No one will wish to face them.