Sane SOS can't salvage sorry City display
Years from now when, as a number of good judges expect, Mikel Arteta is an experienced and distinguished head coach, he will look back on his maiden Manchester City news conference with a wry smile.
There is a knack of talking to the assembled media before a big game without actually saying anything, without causing a fuss. However, with Pep Guardiola ceding press conference duties due to his UEFA touchline ban, Arteta went into soundbite mode on the eve City's Champions League opener against Lyon.
"For me we have the best players in the world. I look at our players like they are the best," he said.
"I see them training every day, I see how they react to positives and negatives. I know their qualities and I know their weaknesses, and I wouldn't change my players for any others."
Mercifully for those trudging off in sky blue on Wednesday nursing a 2-0 half-time deficit, Guardiola's ban extended to the tunnel area and dressing rooms. Arteta, meanwhile, was spoilt for choice over which of the men before him he might wish to change.
Bruno Genesio's side have taken seven points from their opening five Ligue 1 games this term, yet thoroughly deserved their advantage.
Guardiola has offered regular and pointed warnings over complacency to his Premier League champions this season. The error-strewn lethargy that allowed Maxwel Cornet and Nabil Fekir to net first-half goals will probably persuade him to drop any remaining subtlety.
Aymeric Laporte and John Stones again showed the makings of a fine and enduring centre-back partnership, but mistakes spewed forth around them – left-back Fabian Delph and the normally dependable Fernandinho the main culprits.
Raheem Sterling was typically lively in attack but both Silvas, David and Bernardo, were becalmed as Gabriel Jesus joined his confidence levels on the floor with a pitiful dive in the penalty area. It was a limp display matched by disinterested home support.
The early knockings of the second half featured steady improvement but City only really hit their stride when Leroy Sane came into the fray in the 55th minute.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) September 19, 2018
Sprinting to retrieve a wayward cross-field pass from Kyle Walker ensured the Germany winger was quickly up to speed with where his team-mates were at and he set about dragging them from their torpor after Ederson tipped Memphis Depay's shot on to the post.
Of course, Sane does not really drag anything. He is such an effortlessly graceful footballer. His mother is a medal-winning Olympic gymnast and that genetic inheritance serves to befuddle when the 22-year-old lithely twists and pirouettes away from opponents in full flight.
Sane squared up and dispatched Rafael Da Silva in the blink of an eye to set up Bernardo Silva's 67th-minute goal and a thudding Sergio Aguero shot came after another whizzing, twirling dribble.
The super-sub's one mistake came as he mistimed a jump from which he should have headed an equaliser, by which point Rafael had been withdrawn and Pape Cheikh and Leo Dubois were frantically doubling up on Lyon's major source of danger.
It was not to be for Sane, as he blazed over from the edge of the area with City slipping to their fourth consecutive Champions League defeat, but a rare talent's emergence from a shock World Cup omission, listless pre-season and resultant bench duty was a plus on a sorry night for Guardiola.
Some have been too quick to judge inconsistencies from a young man who just became a father for a first time. Sane's ability is beyond question and it will be called upon as City aim to match Liverpool and Chelsea's flying start at home, correct this wobble in Europe and cope without injured talisman Kevin De Bruyne.
Best players in the world? On this collective evidence, not at all. However, it would feel like a dreadful waste if Sane does not soon place himself indisputably in that bracket.