Five talking points as City survive first-half Crvena zvezda scare
Manchester City survived a first-half scare to beat Crvena zvezda 3-1 in their first Champions League game as reigning champions.
City trailed 1-0 at half-time having lost Bernardo Silva to injury.
It was a different story after the break, however, as Julian Alvarez's brace and Rodri's strike secured victory.
City's game against Crvena zvezda was their first in this competition since their triumph in June and there was a sense of homecoming in the air at the Etihad.
Highlights of the Istanbul final against Inter were shown on loop on the big screens inside the stadium while club legend Mike Summerbee led the teams onto the pitch holding the European trophy aloft.
His side were serenaded by chants of "champions of Europe, we know what we are" but Pep Guardiola was in no mood to reminisce.
The manager's pre-match words, that his side had "not done anything special with just one", also boomed around the ground and laid down the challenge for City to defend their crown.
Despite the atmosphere setting the tone, City's first-half display failed to hit the mark.
The interplay was sloppy, Erling Haaland missed two big chances and an agitated Guardiola also lost key man Silva.
Jeremy Doku was beckoned to replace him after 44 minutes — and the worst was still to come.
Crvena zvezda had already shown menace on the counter-attack and Osman Bukari beat the offside trap — assisted by VAR — to put his side into a shock lead at the interval.
But City have had a clear message for teams who cause them any discomfort this season — do not make us angry.
They have wasted little time responding to setbacks against Sheffield United, Fulham and West Ham already, going on to beat each of them, and had turned this one around within 15 minutes of the second half.
Though Guardiola would prefer them to make faster starts, stepping things up under pressure is also a hallmark of great sides.
This 3-1 victory was the latest example of how difficult City will be to stop this season.
The second-half response was spearheaded by a double from Alvarez, whose impressive start to the season continued at pace.
The Argentine has registered four goals and four assists so far this term, generally from a deeper position off Haaland.
That role suits the 23-year-old, whose twinkle toes and use of space are perfectly complemented by how his strike partner occupies defenders.
Not long ago, Guardiola's quandary was how to give both Alvarez and Haaland enough minutes.
The answer? Play them together.
More Haaland misses
A minor concern, perhaps, but Haaland's profligacy this season has been notable compared to last.
The 52-goal star of the Treble-winning campaign fluffed his lines on a few occasions at the Etihad, just as he has at Sheffield United and West Ham this term.
Seven goals in eight games is hardly a barren run but the Norwegian will be keen to recapture the air of invincibility that defined him for much of 2022-23.
It would make success for City this season all the more inevitable.