101 days since Pep Guardiola’s side were crowned European champions in Istanbul, we set out on another continental campaign with a Julian Alvarez brace and Rodrigo strike earning the win against the Serbian champions.
Red Star initially took the lead on the brink of half-time when Osman Bukari’s goal was awarded following a VAR check for offside.
However, Alvarez had City on level terms just 73 seconds into the second period before his free-kick on the hour – intended more as a cross than a shot – beat everyone and completed the turnaround.
Rodrigo made the game safe with a cultured finish in the 73rd minute.
City have now gone 27 Champions League home games since our last Etihad defeat – a run stretching all the way back to September 2018.
Club Ambassador Mike Summerbee kicked the night off by carrying the iconic Champions League trophy, draped in blue and white ribbons, out into the relentless Manchester rain ahead of the two teams.
Enjoying a reprieve from the rain that had soaked Manchester throughout the day, City settled into the game quickly.
Matheus Nunes, on his full debut, had the first chance but could only head a dangerous corner over the bar.
The Portuguese midfielder turned creator shortly afterwards, dinking a delicate pass to Phil Foden that the Academy graduate pulled wide with an acrobatic overhead kick.
Omri Glazer in the Red Star goal made his first serious save in the 15th minute, shooting a left hand up to deny Rodrigo, our hero in June’s final, another Champions League goal.
With all in the Etihad expecting the net to bulge, our No.9’s attempt instead thudded against the crossbar.
Unusually, it was headed efforts that looked City’s most likely route to goal.
Haaland was again frustrated in the 34th minute when he wrapped his left boot around a Sergio Gomez cross only to see it fly over the bar.
City’s domination only grew throughout the half, with Red Star retreating further and further back towards their own goal.
Gomez himself was the next to sense the prospect of a goal only to be snuffed out by last ditch defending.
After a goalmouth scramble, the full-back ran on to Rodrigo’s cross and unleashed a fierce volley that was deflected behind.
As the clock hit 40, City again sliced through the visitors but couldn’t convert the resultant headed opportunity. This time it was Foden who nodded Gomez’s cross directly at Glazer.
With half-time approaching, Red Star spotted their opportunity and surged forward.
Osman Bukari kept his cool and curled the ball around the advancing Ederson.
Initially ruled out for offside, a nervy wait for the VAR check ensued before referee Joao Pinheiro signalled the goal would stand.
It took a mere 73 seconds after the restart for Julian Alvarez to restore parity.
The Argentine raced on to Erling Haaland’s disguised reverse pass, dribbled around Glazer and squeezed the ball home from a tight angle.
So, back to square one. City again enjoyed the majority of the ball while our opponents sought a chance to break.
If Alvarez’s first could be put down to neat attacking play at high speed, the second was much more fortunate.
Our No.19 whipped another dangerous ball from a free-kick won on the edge of the box by Nunes.
Glazer, the Red Star goalkeeper who had impressed so much in the first half, stepped forward to punch clear but instead succeeded only in glancing the ball into his own net.
The Israeli goalkeeper returned to form moments later when he somehow scrambled Haaland’s latest header on to his post.
There was nothing the goalkeeper could have done about the third when it did come – with Rodrigo breezing into the box and curling inside his far post.
The midfielder has spoken of his desire to add more goals to his game since that vital intervention in Istanbul and this finish had all the hallmarks of a player capable of racking up many more in all competitions.
Subs: Ortega Moreno, Carson, Gvardiol
RED STAR XI: Glazer, Mijailovic, Djiga, Dragovic, Rodic, Hwang (Degenek 82), Stamenic, Ivanic (Krasso 68), Bukari (Kangwa 83), Mitrovic (Lucic 78), Ndiaye (Olayinka 68)
Subs: Popovic, Vasiljevic, Spajic, Katai, Krasso, Milunovic, Kangwa, Kabic
Man of the match
Rodrigo – The driving force and the beating heart of this City team.
Rodrigo is so much more than a defensive midfielder, the Spaniard is now affecting City’s play in all areas of the pitch.
Sitting deepest out of the midfield unit, he was in charge of protecting the defence, but was also the first man to convert possession into attacks.
Whether bursting into space himself or clipping passes for team-mates, the No.16 is the root of much of our endeavour on and off the ball.
The goal was not only a demonstration of his supreme, casual quality but also the forward-thinking attitude every time the opportunity is there for the taking.
In our first Champions League game since he wrote himself into the Club’s folklore in Istanbul, Rodrigo made it clear for all to see that there’s still so much more to come.
In the words of Pep Guardiola in his post-match press conference: "He is the best."
Pep Guardiola reaction
"If we had scored the chances we had in the first five or 10 mins the game would be different. At half-time losing 0-1, maybe we need it.
"Maybe after winning the Treble we need these types of challenges to prove to ourselves. Both today and against West Ham.
"The situation is nice to prove it. We make a goal to come back. Things to improve but in general it’s really good."
Nunes' full debut
He saw plenty of the ball in the early stages and on occasion would drop in to help sitting midfielder Rodrigo, but our No.27 was largely tasked with operating in the inside right.
His talent was clear to see, producing incisive passes, delicate crosses and carrying the ball beyond challenges.
Off the ball, the new man was talked through the game by the likes of Ruben Dias, Kyle Walker, Bernardo Silva and Rodrigo – all of whom were close by and have amassed hundreds of games under Pep Guardiola.
What it means
City start life in Group G with three points from three. We share that tally with RB Leipzig, who beat Young Boys earlier in the day.
As always, we’ll have six matches in the group, with the top two teams in our group of four progressing to the knockout stage.
City are back at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, when Nottingham Forest are the visitors in the Premier League. That match is a 15:00 (UK) kick-off.
In terms of the Champions League, we travel to RB Leipzig on Wednesday 4 October for the second of six group stage matches.