Manchester City have all but qualified for the UEFA Champions League after beating Steaua Bucharest 5-0 in the first leg of their qualifier, dominating the hosts from the opening whistle as Sergio Aguero scored a hat-trick.
David Silva opened the score early and Aguero added a second goal late in the first half to give the visitors a comfortable lead. The star striker had already missed two penalties at that point, but he redeemed himself with a fine strike to all but end Steaua's chances of qualifying.
Nolito added to the lead early in the second half, scoring his first City goal, and the Citizens easily controlled the match from that point. Aguero doubled his tally with 12 minutes left to play and completed his hat-trick just before the final whistle.
As shared by City's official Twitter account, manager Pep Guardiola once again opted to keep goalkeeper Joe Hart on the bench:
Per the Daily Mirror's David McDonnell, the two stoppers didn't show any signs of animosity in warm-ups, however:
The first chance of the match fell to Steaua, as a cheap piece of play in midfield allowed Nicolae Stanciu through on goal. Fortunately for the Citizens, his shot from long range flew wide of Willy Caballero's goal, sparing the visitors some early blushes.
Another poor giveaway saw Pablo Zabaleta hit the emergency brake to stop a counter-attack from developing, earning him the first booking of the match just minutes into the contest.
Stuart Brennan of the Manchester Evening News was not impressed:
Nolito fired City's first chance of the match straight at goalkeeper Florin Nita before Aguero received a golden opportunity to open the scoring from the penalty spot. Raheem Sterling was tripped inside the box and the official―correctly―pointed to the spot, but Nita dealt with Aguero's poor penalty and Nolito somehow failed to hit the target with the rebound.
Eurosport UK were shocked:
But the disappointment of the missed penalty didn't last long. Sterling, who enjoyed an excellent start to the match, took control of the ball inside the box after some dreadful defending and skipped past a marker before laying it off to Silva, who calmly slotted home to give his team the lead.
The hosts had no answers for City's swift passing game, and after just 20 minutes, the ball went on the penalty spot for a second time. Aleksandar Kolarov made a nice run into the box and was cut down by a sliding Gabriel Enache, once again giving the official little choice.
Aguero had the chance to redeem himself for his earlier miss and promptly fired a rocket well over the crossbar, leading to plenty of hilarity on social media.
Daniel Taylor of the Guardian couldn't help himself:
City continued their pressure, and Kolarov saw a shot take a wicked deflection and just miss the crossbar before Nolito teed up Kevin De Bruyne, who also couldn't find the target.
On the other side of the pitch, Nolito gave the ball away cheaply, and Jugurtha Hamroun nearly took advantage, firing a shot right at Caballero from close range.
As the half wore on, City's pressure wore off, and mistakes started creeping into their play. Caballero nearly gifted the hosts a goal with a dreadful pass, and Stanciu launched a dangerous free-kick into the box that caused a lot of trouble shortly before half-time.
But Guardiola's troops increased the tempo again in the final minutes of the half, with Kolarov hitting the crossbar with a hard volley and Sterling drawing a fine save from Nita.
Another goal seemed inevitable, and it eventually came with four minutes left in the half, as Sterling isolated Aguero in front of goal and the Argentinian curled home a fine strike.
James Robson of the Manchester Evening News was impressed by the provider:
Adrian Popa put Caballero to work with a fine strike, and the winger provided the hosts with the last chance of the half, finding Enache with a cross. The full-back messed up his touch, however, allowing City to clear to end the half.
Steaua started the second half well, and Stanciu nearly pulled one back for the hosts, hitting the side netting, but with their first chance of the half, City added to their lead. De Bruyne played a wonderful pass into the path of Nolito, who easily rounded the goalkeeper before putting the ball in the net.
Per Brennan, it was the Spaniard's first for his new club:
The third goal opened the floodgates, and chances now arrived quickly. Nolito nearly doubled his tally, striking the post after a wonderful team attack, and Aguero just missed the target after another fantastic pass from De Bruyne.
Steaua responded to the pressure with a series of harsh tackles, earning several bookings in quick succession. Aguero could have added a fourth goal on the counter but failed to beat Nita, but overall, City were happy to take the pace out of the match and pass the ball around.
Silva had another good look on goal with 20 minutes to go but couldn't get a decent shot off, and Nita showed his ability to deny Aguero minutes later. The Argentinian had more luck with two minutes left to play, finishing off another fine passing move that started with De Bruyne.
City went looking for a fifth goal, with Nolito testing Nita again, and Steaua were desperate to avoid further embarrassment. It didn't matter, however, as Aguero added a third goal to his tally with a minute left to play.
The two teams will meet for the return match on Wednesday, August 24.
Aguero was able to laugh at his struggles from the penalty spot after the match:
City may very well decide to field a number of backups in the return leg, as it's highly unlikely Steaua will score six goals at the Etihad Stadium. The gulf in class between both teams was enormous on Tuesday, and the Citizens could easily have added four or five more goals.