Defending champions Manchester City recovered from a one-goal deficit to beat Red Star Belgrade 3-1 in their Group G opener with Julián Álvarez scoring twice at the Etihad on Tuesday.
Pep Guardiola’s side dominated the first period but were guilty of wayward finishing and fell behind just before the break when Osman Bukari broke away to finish in style.
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City began the match on a 26-match unbeaten Champions League home run and normal service resumed almost immediately after the restart when Alvarez equalized after combining with Erling Haaland.
A miscalculation by Red Star goalkeeper Omri Glazer allowed Álvarez’s cross to enter the net on the hour mark and Rodri made it 3-1 with a clinical finish after 73 minutes, as City made it 19 consecutive victories in home in all competitions.
Just over three months after City finally clinched Europe’s biggest club prize with victory over Inter Milan in Istanbul, they began their defense in finally comfortable fashion.
But for 45 minutes it looked like it might be one of those nights where opportunity after opportunity went begging.
However, once Argentina’s Álvarez equalized in the 47th minute, only one outcome seemed likely.
“In the last two games I didn’t know how many opportunities we missed,” Guardiola said.
“We played very, very well, but we couldn’t score goals. We were consistent and in the end we won the game.”
Norwegian goal machine Haaland has gone four Champions League games without scoring and was guilty of some missed attempts in a first half in which City’s 22 goal attempts were the most in the competition since data began being collected .
He headed a shot wide, another even easier chance against the crossbar and then fired over.
Red Star goalkeeper Glazer was magnificent in the first half, denying Phil Foden from close range and also keeping out attempts by Nathan Aké and Rodri.
But City disconnected in the 45th minute and a forward ball sent Bukari through, with only Éderson in the lead.
The Ghanaian remained remarkably calm to place his shot beyond the City goalkeeper, but his joy was initially cut short by an offside signal before referee Joao Pinheiro allowed the ball to stand after an intervention by the VAR.
The 3,000 fans traveling through Belgrade celebrated and City could hardly believe it as they went into the break.
“I said ‘guys, we can’t say we’re playing badly. Forget the result, we can come back, so go for it and be calmer,'” the City manager said of his half-time chat with the team.
However, City soon made amends after the break as Álvarez passed the ball to Haaland and then showed great desire to run into the box and receive a return pass before evading Glazer and scoring in an open and close your eyes
Kyle Walker had a goal ruled out for offside before the otherwise excellent Glazer gifted the hosts their second goal.
Alvarez delivered a quick right-footed cross and Glazer fluttered in the air with the ball into the net.
City began play with a faltering Red Star side and secured the points when Rodri, scorer of the winning goal against Inter in June, produced a lethal right-footed shot from the left side of the penalty area.
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