Man City seal UCL group-stage place in what could be Joe Hart's farewell
MANCHESTER, England -- Three quick thoughts from Manchester City's 1-0 win over Steaua Bucharest in the second leg of their Champions League playoff at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday. The 6-0 aggregate win sees Pep Guardiola's side move on to the group stage.
1. Man City stroll into the group stage
It wasn't quite the fireworks of eight days ago when a blistering Manchester City tore apart Steaua Bucharest in Romania, but Guardiola maintained his 100 percent start with a comfortable win at the Etihad. Fabian Delph finally broke the deadlock with a 56th-minute header to add to the emphatic 5-0 victory in the first leg to ensure City were in pot two for Thursday's group-stage draw.
It was a low-key clash with the tie effectively over after the first leg, and Steaua coach Laurențiu Reghecampf set up his side to keep the damage to a minimum. It wasn't a surprise after he opened his prematch news conference by saying: "I don't think there is a question over who will qualify."
Guardiola, though, still demanded a high intensity from his players and delivered severe reprimands to £47.5 million new signing John Stones and young debutant Pablo Maffeo after making poor decisions yards from the dugout.
The manager did at least take the opportunity to rest key players that have been behind City's impressive (if draining) start to the season. Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Fernandinho and Raheem Sterling were all left on the bench just in case there was any danger of the unthinkable happening and the Romanian side threatening City's huge first-leg advantage.
There was no chance of that happening. But it was at least a useful reminder of how difficult it will be for City to break down stubborn sides at the Etihad Stadium. While they have scored nine goals in two games away from home, they laboured to a late 2-1 win over Sunderland on the opening day of the Premier League season and there were echoes of that frustration against Steaua.
City again dominated possession but created few chances against a side that were happy to keep men behind the ball.
And there was a further concern when young striker Kelechi Iheanacho went down injured unopposed and was then carried from the pitch on a stretcher.
2. Hart's farewell?
Guardiola said Hart had a chance of starting, and he was true to his word with the England keeper named captain for the night. But whether it was a chance for Hart to impress the new City boss or an opportunity to say farewell to the fans will become clearer in the next six days when the transfer window is finally shut for the summer on Wednesday.
It certainly felt like a goodbye when he waved to all four sides of the ground as the players left the pitch at full-time. Chile keeper Claudio Bravo was in Manchester ahead of an expected £17 million move from Barcelona and the 33-year-old is likely to be in goal when City kick off their group stage campaign in September.
Certainly many of the fans want Hart to stay and battle Bravo for a starting berth after 10 seasons with the club and a host of honours. They showed their appreciation by clapping his every touch and cheering his first -- a short rolled pass to Aleksandar Kolarov with the intimation that they believe the England No. 1 has the ball-playing skills that Guardiola wants.
In fact he didn't misplace a pass all night, although he had little opportunity to showcase his goalkeeping skills in front of the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss.
Hart wasn't the only big name recalled to the side, with Yaya Toure starting after being left out of the 18-man squads for City's first three games of the season, although he struggled to stamp his usual authority on the game. But there was no place in the squad for Eliaquim Mangala, Wilfried Bony or Samir Nasri, who were ineligible after being left out of Guardiola's Champions League squad submitted to UEFA.
3. The kids are all right
Guardiola took the opportunity to give a chance to young Spanish defenders Maffeo and Angelino and Manchester-born centre-half Tosin Adarabioyo.
His predecessor Manuel Pellegrini rarely gave youth an opportunity, with the exception of teenage striker Kelechi Iheanacho, who excelled in his debut season last year.
Pellegrini's only concession to City's heavily invested academy was when he gave five teenagers their full debut in an FA Cup defeat to Chelsea in February. But that was more in a fit of pique because he was unhappy at a busy fixture schedule -- the game coming three days before a Champions League tie with Dynamo Kiev -- rather than him showing any faith in the next generation.
Guardiola, on the other hand, has a track record of giving youth a chance -- and being rewarded for it. He gave debuts to 22 youngsters during his time at Barcelona and saw the likes of Sergio Busquets and Pedro step up from the B side and flourish with his first team.
Maffeo made his first start for City and the dynamic young full-back was lively and quick to embrace Guardiola's tactical revolution that sees his wide defenders supplement the midfield when City have the ball. Although it didn't absolve from a typically theatrical dressing down from Guardiola in the first half after an error.
Adarabioyo and Angelino, who made brief appearances in last season's doomed FA Cup run, came off the bench after an hour and showed they are ready and eager to challenge for the first team with lively cameos.
It's early days and City were virtually already guaranteed in the Champions League stage, but it will already be a huge boost for the promising youngsters at City's £200 million Etihad Academy that Guardiola is prepared to give youth an opportunity.
Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.