Raheem Sterling hit a late winner as an unusually subdued Manchester City secured top spot in their Champions League group with a narrow victory over Feyenoord.
City – by their recent high standards at least – produced a flat performance at the Etihad Stadium but Sterling’s sublime 88th-minute strike proved the difference in a 1-0 win.
It may not have been convincing but, with a last-16 place already assured, the drop in intensity was understandable after manager Pep Guardiola made seven changes.
The display was still good enough to prolong City’s club record-winning run to 17 matches and highly-rated youngsters Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz a taste of the action as late substitutes.
“A win is better than not (winning),” Guardiola said. “We are going to analyse the performance but sometimes it is difficult having won lots of games and already qualified.
“We didn’t have the right tension to play but that is normal. We are still winning and we made a fantastic goal, from Raz after an excellent pass from (Ilkay) Gundogan.”
Sterling’s winner was his 11th goal of an impressive season. The England international brilliantly lifted the ball over the advancing Brad Jones after racing onto Gundogan’s incisive through-ball.
“You see he scores a lot of goals, that is good for him,” said Guardiola. “He is scoring important goals and that is so important for a winger or a striker. But he is young and can still improve.”
Sterling himself admitted the win was not a convincing one.
He told BT Sport/ESPN Live: “What we’ve shown this season – no matter what competition it is – if it’s Champions League, Premier League, cup games, we’ve got the mentality that we want to win and even if it’s sometimes ugly, we just try to make sure we get the three points and the win.”
Shakhtar Donetsk’s loss to Napoli in the other Group F game means City’s trip to Ukraine in a fortnight now has nothing riding on it for them. They are unassailable at the top of the pool.
Kevin De Bruyne will miss that game in Kharkiv through suspension after receiving a yellow card in the second half.
Guardiola did not bite on a suggestion the Belgian may have incurred the booking deliberately to get a ban out of the way before the knockout phase.
“It was a clear yellow card, a clear foul,” he said, with no expression, after a long pause in his post-match press conference.