Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Jack Grealish scored a superb first Champions League goal as Manchester City survived Christopher Nkunku’s hat-trick to beat RB Leipzig 6-3 in a pulsating Group A opener on Wednesday.
Grealish admits the lure of playing on the Champions League stage convinced him to leave his boyhood club Aston Villa to join City in a club record £100 million ($138 million) move in the close-season.
The England winger made the most of his first taste of the tournament’s bright lights with a brilliant solo effort in the second half at the Etihad Stadium.
Grealish also set up City’s first goal for Nathan Ake with a pin-point corner.
While City were snubbed by Cristiano Ronaldo when the Portugal superstar opted to join Manchester United, Pep Guardiola believes the younger Grealish is more than ample compensation and this influential display underlined why.
Nordi Mukiele’s own goal had doubled City’s lead before Nkunku got one back on a memorable personal evening for the French winger.
Riyad Mahrez’s penalty made it 3-1 and Nkunku netted again before Grealish’s moment of magic.
Nkunku’s third was followed by Joao Cancelo’s rocket and a red card for Leipzig’s former City defender Angelino.
Gabriel Jesus rounded off the goal-spree as City celebrated Guardiola’s 300th game in charge in fitting style.
There was more good news for Guardiola as Kevin De Bruyne impressed in his first game back from the ankle injury which had sidelined him since August 15.
Guardiola led City to their first Champions League final last season, but the Premier League champions were denied a maiden European Cup crown in a limp 1-0 loss against Chelsea.
Guardiola insists that defeat will serve as the “motor” driving City’s challenge this term and they wasted little time seizing pole position in Group A.
– Grealish shines –
City were ahead in the 16th minute as Grealish’s corner found Ake and he rose highest for a powerful header that Peter Gulacsi tipped onto the crossbar, only to see it bounce down over the goal-line.
It was Ake’s first City goal since September 2020 and his first ever in the Champions League.
City doubled their lead thanks to Mukiele’s comical blunder in the 28th minute.
De Bruyne tenaciously eluded three Leipzig players and curled a sublime cross towards Grealish that the panicked Mukiele diverted into his own net as he tried to head back to Gulacsi.
Nkunku punished sloppy defending to give the visitors hope in the 42nd minute.
When Emil Forsberg’s cross reached Mukiele at the far post, Ake was guilty of ball-watching as the Leipzig defender nodded towards Nkunku, who dispatched his header past Ederson.
Suitably chastened, City hit back in first half stoppage-time when Lukas Klostermann blocked Ferran Torres’ header with his out-stretched arm and Mahrez smashed the spot-kick into the top corner.
Their defensive flaws remained alarming and Leipzig reduced the deficit again in the 51st minute.
Dani Olmo’s floated cross found Nkunku left unmarked by Ake and he thumped a fierce header past Ederson.
Grealish appeared to have settled City’s nerves in the 56th minute.
Cutting in from the left, Grealish left Tyler Adams trailing in his wake as he curled a brilliant finish into the far corner.
Nkunku completed his hat-trick with a predatory close-range strike from a tight angle in the 73rd minute.
But Cancelo quashed any hopes of a Leipzig fightback two minutes later when he grabbed City’s fifth with a thunderous drive from 25 yards
Angelino was dismissed in the 79th minute for a crude foul on Cancelo and Jesus tapped in six minutes later to put the seal on a memorable evening.