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On a balmy evening in Shenzhen, City signed off on their week in China with a 1-1 draw against Borussia Dortmund, winning 6-5 on penalties thanks to three penalty saves by Angus Gunn.
“More risks, more beauty” was Willy Caballero’s message on the eve of the game and it was a maxim borne out in a first period where misplaced passes and misunderstandings in the City defensive third reared their heads – inevitable when players are still assimilating their manager’s fresh, new ideas.
City did respond well to something of an early onslaught from the German side and almost had a goal of their own in the ninth minute when the lively Fabian Delph was picked out by a Jesus Navas cut-back but he dragged his shot wide when he might have worked the goalkeeper.
The game then entered something an understandable lull as the humidity took its toll but Kelechi Iheanacho certainly grew in influence as the half wore on, linking up well with Delph and Aleks Zinchenko, eager to get shots away.
The Nigerian probably would have expected to see the net ripple in first half stoppage time when he was played in ten yards out and alone with the goalkeeper but Buerki came to the rescue for Dortmund with a brilliant block.
With no goals scored in an even first half, both sides made a number of alterations at the break, with Sergio Aguero, Jason Denayer and David Silva all getting their first minutes of pre-season and, from this point on, City always looked the likelier victors.
Another of the half-time introductions Wilfried Bony, who looked bright and full of purpose, created two good chances for himself either side of the hour mark, forcing the goalkeeper into a good save and firing just over.
However, it was Aguero who produced the night’s first goal – a simple tap-in following a quite brilliant interchange between Angelino, Silva and Aleix Garcia.
Just when it looked as though that would be enough to give City a first win under Pep Guardiola, Christian Pulisic levelled with the last kick of the game.
As tournament rules dictate, the match then went to penalties where an epic shootout was won in sudden death by City, with Gunn saving the crucial spot-kick from Merino.
Pep Guardiola’s applause on the touchline said it all.
It’s no exaggeration to say that City’s goal was the kind Pep’s Barcelona and Bayern Munich sides scored for fun under the Catalan.
Any new system will take time for a new coach to implement but this exceptional four-handed exchange felt like the first flickerings of something very special indeed.
Most pleasing of all was Aleix Garcia’s role in it – the young Spaniard’s through ball for Silva was perfectly measured and sprung the lock on the Dortmund defence, making David and Kun’s minds up for them.
Man of the match
He may have only played the first 45 minutes but Fabian Delph made a big impression.
The Yorkshireman spoke in the pre-match press conference of his admiration for Pep’s Barcelona and Bayern Munich sides – if he plays like this in 2016/17, the midfielder could be a central figure in Guardiola’s City revolution.
Delph’s “grass-eating” pitch coverage, even in stifling heat, was no surprise to anyone but it appeared as though he had been given an increased creative license and more access to the final third of the pitch where, on a number of occasions, he showed his quality, linking up with Iheanacho and Zinchenko.
Photo of the match
How they lined up
Guardiola’s second City line-up was markedly more senior than his first, as City trialled a full-back-less defence containing Adarabioyo, Kolarov and Otamendi in the centre, while Clichy and Navas were charged with providing the width.
Dortmund included one of the men tipped to be the continent’s breakout star this season in Ousmane Dembele, as well as fellow summer signings Emre Mor and Marc Bartra.
Both sides made wholesale changes at half-time with Angus Gunn, Pablo Maffeo, Jason Denayer, Aleix Garcia, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Wilfried Bony and Sergio Aguero all coming on for City as they reverted to a more traditional four-at-the-back system - Nolito also made his first appearance as a late substitute.
Post of the match
@AngusGunn01 ❤️❤️— ambroseT68 (@thierryambrose) July 28, 2016
That juicy story is attracting most of the scribes’ attention, but there is still space for articles on midfielder Ilkay Gundogan and Fabian Delph and what they might bring to Pep Guardiola’s side this season.