It was a battle of the Blues with the Sky Blues of Manchester City running out 7-0 victors against the Royal Blues of Schalke.
Schalke set the tempo for proceedings, sitting deep and inviting City pressure but the German outfit would soon buckle after Sergio Aguero netted from the spot with a delightful Panenka past Ralf Fahrmann in the 35th minute, and the diminutive Argentine doubled the lead just three minutes later.
The floodgates were well and truly open from this point and further goals from Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden and Gabriel Jesus condemned Schalke to an abysmal exit from the Champions League.
And so, as City book their place in the quarter-finals of the competition, what did we learn?
1. Scintillating Sergio
And there we have it, another season, another 25 plus goals for the diminutive Argentine marksman, who netted a clinical first half brace this evening, taking the game beyond Schalke’s reach before the Germans even had a chance to get going.
Aguero’s double not only took City to the Champions League quarter-finals but it also ensured he has now netted over 25 goals for six successive seasons, and in seven of his last eight seasons for the North West club, further etching his name into Sky Blue folklore.
Sergio Aguero has now scored 25+ goals in all competitions, a feat he has achieved 7 times in his last 8 seasons.
✅ 2011/12: 30
❌️ 2012/13: 17
✅ 2013/14: 28
✅ 2014/15: 32
✅ 2015/16: 29
✅ 2016/17: 33
✅ 2017/18: 30
✅ 2018/19: 26
Simply incredible. pic.twitter.com/HjDmsUHoFN
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 12, 2019
His first goal was a deceptively improvised Panenka from 12 yards out, before he followed up with a low drive just moments later, taking his tally to 26 for the season. And what a season it is so far proving for the 30-year-old, who is currently leading the Golden Boot race with 18 goals.
Aguero’s latest omission from the Argentina squad will be a further welcome for Guardiola, who is currently setting his stall out to achieve an unprecedented quadruple – he will need his best players fit and available.
2. No Fernandinho, no problem
The importance of Fernandinho to Guardiola’s system should never be understated; many City fans would even rank the Brazilian as the club’s main fulcrum despite the attacking riches of Aguero, Sterling et al. But since the anchorman has been sidelined through injury Ilkay Gundogan has proven a more than capable replacement.
When Fernandinho went off through injury in the EFL Cup final, City fans would have been fearing the worst as the club desperately lack a like-for-like replacement. However, Gundogan has since stepped into that defensive midfield role and significantly remedied the Fernandinho void.
The German was formidable as a deep-lying tempo-setter in wins against West Ham, Bournemouth, and Watford; and this evening, against a dishevelled Schalke, he was mesmeric.
Operating as the metronome, Gundogan was in charge of recycling play this evening, procuring the ball for the more attack-minded players, but also picking the runs of Sterling and Sane, and he made some sensational defence splitting passes in the process, notably his long distance pass to Sterling for Aguero’s second.
City need not worry about the absence of Fernandinho with Gundogan currently firing on all cylinders.
3. VAR: the good…and the bad
The much debated, much controversial and much talked about VAR played a prominent role this evening, proving its more effective side but also its more contentious side as well.
In the 38th minute City scored a quite brilliant goal, attacking with breakneck speed after Gundogan picked out Sterling, before his imaginative back heel found the path of Aguero, who duly dispatched. However, referee Clement Turpin halted play to consult the video assistant referee to determine whether Sterling was in an offside position when the ball was originally played over by Gundogan.
Here’s Aguero’s 2nd which VAR took about 3 weeks to determine that it wasn’t offside: pic.twitter.com/wvBaIOJd5l
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) March 12, 2019
On inspection of the replay, he was clearly onside with right-back Weston McKennie playing him on, but the decision took an age to make and completely diluted celebrations in the ground. This was an unnecessarily prolonged consultation that needs to be refined before it completely kills the emotion and spontaneity of the game.
That said we also bore witness to the positive side of VAR this evening with Sterling’s goal being rightly overturned after initially being chalked out by the linesman. Another Jekyll and Hyde performance from the technology.
4. Pep the perfectionist
Guardiola’s rallying call in the aftermath of his side’s comprehensive 3-1 win over Watford was by no means a homage to his players, but rather a criticism of their faults for a tentative first half performance.
Well, that open aired criticism has certainly rubbed off on his players as his side ran riot in the opening 45 minutes, attacking Schalke with elan and firing three goals past a hapless Fahrmann.
Man City are the first team to score 7+ goals in a #UCL knock-out game since Bayern Munich in 2015 (vs. Shakhtar).
Seven heaven. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/e3artcmgeE
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 12, 2019
Guardiola described his side as “teenagers in the competition” prior to the match, but they certainly showed a maturity and mental fortitude this evening, proving years above the adolescence Guardiola alluded to.
One player in particular who stepped up to the mark was Sterling. Despite scoring a hat-trick against Watford over the weekend, Guardiola was quick to dissect the winger’s lukewarm first-half performance, showing just how high his expectations are of the England international. And the message clearly paid dividends as he once again showcased his worth, proving too hot to handle for Schalke.
5. Tedesco on the brink
Domenico Tedesco is a man staring down the barrel after another capitulation, with his days in the district of Gelsenkirchen appearing numbered. The young Italian technocrat has now seen his side concede three or more goals in their previous five outings.
A resounding 21 goals have been conceded in those five matches, with devastating defeats to Mainz, Fortuna and Werder Bremen compounding a month of sheer misery for Schalke.
Tedesco garnered plenty of attention for his tactical nous last season, taking Schalke to second in the Bundesliga and the semi-finals of the DFB-Pokal, but this campaign has been diametrically at odds with the brilliance of his maiden year at the helm.
The 33-year-old was highly-sought after over the summer but his reputation has taken a massive hit this term with his side languishing precariously outside the relegation zone. The Schalke hierarchy appear determined to keep hold of their man, but continued defeats in this manner will surely make his position untenable.