Guardiola starts Man City on right path in Champions League playoff win
Three points from Manchester City's 5-0 win over Steaua Bucharest at the National Arena in their Champions League playoff first leg.
1. Pep's European campaign gets off to winning ways
Pep Guardiola can feel fairly comfortable that he has overcome the first major test of his Manchester City reign by all but securing a place in the Champions League group stage after an emphatic 5-0 win over Steaua Bucharest. It would have been a huge embarrassment if the Catalan had failed to overcome the Romanian side in the playoffs, but his team were utterly dominant and his only complaint can be that his side don't go into next Wednesday's second leg with an even bigger advantage.
City scored five, missed two penalties, created 24 chances and hit the woodwork four times while Steaua keeper Florin Nita was in inspired form just to keep the score from being even more embarrassing. Sergio Aguero was the guilty player to miss two spot kicks, but he made up for it with a hat trick in an utterly dominant City performance.
Guardiola started his reign with a win over Sunderland in the Premier League on Saturday, and while there was plenty of innovation and intrigue about the way he set his side up, the Black Cats almost escaped with a point. The victory over Steaua was far more compelling as City's exciting attacking quintet of Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Nolito, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva pulled a crumbling defence to pieces.
Silva opened the scoring in the 13th minute, six minutes after Aguero's first penalty was saved. The Argentine then blasted a second chance from the spot over the bar before rounding off a neat passing move for City's second in the 41st minute. Nolito scored his first goal for his new club shortly after the break before Aguero added two more late in an utterly rampant performance.
Steaua were pretty abject, but the way City carved them open will make a few of their Premier League and Champions League rivals sit up and take notice.
Guardiola, who has never failed to reach the last four of the Champions League and won it twice with Barcelona, will be relieved to avoid the embarrassment of being dumped into the Europa League. But this wasn't his first playoff tie. He faced Legia Warsaw during his first season in charge at the Nou Camp and went on to win the trophy.
There's a long way to go until the final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium in June, but it was an impressive way to start their European campaign.
2. Caballero takes his chance
The prematch talk was dominated by reports that keeper Joe Hart is set to leave the club to be replaced by Barcelona's Claudio Bravo. And there was plenty of anticipation to see whether Guardiola would recall Hart, but the England No. 1 was left on the bench again -- just as he was for the Premier League opener against Sunderland.
Hart's future should become clearer in the next few days, but the added focus on the goalkeeping spot has put a little extra pressure on his stand-in Willy Caballero. The suggestions are that Guardiola wants a keeper that is comfortable in possession, but Caballero doesn't always seem too relaxed on the ball.
However, the Argentine is determined to try to implement the new City boss's demands, and he can be happy with his performance at Steaua's National Arena -- although he will have busier evenings.
He had to be alert from the very first minute when John Stones' first ever touch in Champions League football was an underhit backpass. But Caballero raced off line -- in similar fashion to Guardiola's old sweeper keeper Manuel Neuer -- to clear the danger.
The 34-year-old was quick to narrow the angle on Jugurtha Hamroun when he raced through for Steaua's best chance and saved well from the Algerian midfielder. Caballero's passing statistics weren't terrific -- his pass accuracy was just 73 percent -- but his most crucial stat was no goals conceded.
3. Sterling shines
While Hart's career at the Etihad looks like it might be over, England teammate Sterling looks completely reborn under Guardiola. The former Liverpool forward was fast, confident and very dangerous as he tore into Steaua's ramshackle defence.
He won City's first penalty when his quick feet bamboozled Sulley Muniru into a ridiculous tackle. The 13th-minute opener came when Sterling pressured Alin Tosca into a mistake before he cut the ball back for Silva to lash home.
He also provided an assist for the second with a cushioned touch into the path of Aguero for the Argentine's neat finish. It was the sort of moment he struggled to pull off in his debut season at the Etihad, but his confidence has flooded back ever since Guardiola walked into the club.
After Sterling underwent a miserable summer at Euro 2016, Guardiola has been unwavering in his support for the 21-year-old and it has been particularly noticeable with the Catalan treating other members of the first-team squad with absolute ruthlessness.
Sterling has switched to right wing, a position he never played under previous boss Manuel Pellegrini, and has thrived there. In City's first two games, he has linked up well with his teammates in an attacking five-man frontline and provided moments of individual skill to open up City's opponents.
Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.