Gabriel Jesus returns and immediately reminds Manchester City of what they have been missing. Just as Olympiacos appeared to be coming back into this Group C contest, a magnificent finish by the Brazilian secured a third straight Champions League win for Pep Guardiola’s side, all but assuring them of their place in the knock-out stages with three games still to play.
It was Jesus’ first appearance since suffering a muscle injury in City’s opening game of the Premier League season at Wolverhampton Wanderers in September and he has come back in the knick of time, with leaders Liverpool visiting the Etihad on Sunday. Not that Ferran Torres has failed to impress in his absence, of course. The summer signing from Valencia scored City’s opening goal to maintain his excellent start to life in Manchester.
Joao Cancelo rounded off the victory from distance on the cusp of stoppage time to make sure of three points that did not always look certain. Guardiola appears to be seeking more balance this season, swapping a portion of City’s usual attacking verve for greater defensive solidity. This trade-off could work in the long run – particularly if it helps to deliver a first-ever Champions League title – but there will always be tight, low-scoring games along the way that could go against them.
That was the danger here as Olympiacos searched for an equaliser in the second half with growing confidence. Briefly, it appeared as though City could be accused of failing to capitalise on a largely assured performance. Then came Jesus and a reminder of the clinical, dead-eyed finishing that they have missed at times and that they can now look forward to.
First-half performances are rarely as dominant as City’s was here. Olympiacos were not permitted a single shot on Ederson’s goal. In fact, they were not even allowed a touch of the ball inside the City penalty area. Guardiola’s players were firmly in control from practically the first whistle but this dominance was not converted into a glut of clear-cut chances, as is becoming something of a theme this season.
Then again, who needs chances when you take the lead after 12 minutes, as Torres may fairly ask? The £20.9m summer signing from Valencia scored his fourth goal in nine games for his new club with an expert finish, low and between goalkeeper Jose Sa’s legs, after being played in behind by a neat one-two with Kevin De Bruyne. Riyad Mahrez also had an influential hand in the move, in a week where his willingness to pass to his team-mates has come into question.
Torres is certainly making an impression at the Etihad, filling in as a false nine for the absent Jesus and Sergio Aguero despite his tender age. After strikes in the opening two games against Porto and Marseille, the 20-year-old’s goal here made him the third youngest player to score in four consecutive Champions League appearances, behind only Kylian Mbappé and Erling Haaland. That is not bad company to keep.
But as at the Stade Velodrome last week, City did not respond to an early Torres goal by immediately killing the game off. Raheem Sterling believed he had doubled City’s advantage shortly after the half-hour mark when converting an inch-perfect Mahrez cross at the second attempt. Sa had blocked his first at point-blank, could then do nothing about the second but was saved by the assistant referee’s flag.
Olympiacos should have made City pay for this failure to capitalise on their dominance at the start of the second half. This was not the best of evenings for Phil Foden. The youngster made an uncharacteristic error when collecting a short pass from Ederson and playing the ball back across his own penalty area. Mathieu Valbuena could not believe his luck when the ball dropped his way, which may be why he somehow sliced wide of an open goal.
Even with John Stones covering, it was a huge chance for last season’s invincible Greek Super League champions to equalise and a huge let-off for City. Guardiola was growing increasingly irate on the touchline but still his players did not learn. A loose pass from Oleksandr Zinchenko when under pressure at his own corner flag allowed Mohamed Camara to intercept and cross. The unmarked Youssef El-Arabi could not connect.
Olympiacos’ chances to equalise would end there or, more precisely, with Jesus’ emphatic finish. On as a substitute for Mahrez, the Brazilian appeared to have wasted his opportunity to score when forced to the byline by the imposing figure of Pape Abou Cisse but left himself with enough room on the narrowing angle to shoot high, past Sa’s hands and into the roof of the net. It was a spectacular finish.
Cancelo’s goal added the gloss and provided youngster Felix Nmecha – on as a late substitute for his Etihad debut – with an assist. The otherwise impressive Sa should have done better, with the ball bouncing just before it reached him, but the power on the strike was overwhelming. City had to work for their win at times but a draw in Athens after the international break will wrap qualification up nice and early.