A second half surge from Manchester City saw them complete a comfortable 3-0 win over Marseille, and consigned the French outfit to bottom spot in Group C.
Marseille arrived knowing they had to better Olympiacos’ result with Porto, yet once again started with everyone camped deep inside their half, allowing City the freedom to dictate play. The home side started well, with their trademark slick passing quickly causing problems.
The first chance of the game arrived, oddly, from a Marseille freekick following a Kyle Walker offside.
With eight minutes played, Steve Mandanda decided to welcome teammate Boubacar Kamara into the match with a tricky pass from said offside, with City players all around the midfielder. Unsurprisingly, Fernandinho easily nicked the ball from the Marseille man and Bernardo Silva slipped in Riyad Mahrez down the right. Mandanda, atoning, spread himself well to block the shot, although Mahrez would probably have been better to shoot earlier with his right foot.
Just four minutes later, City had another good chance. A freekick for a foul on the tricky Silva was perfectly whipped in by Ilkay Gundogan onto the head of Aymeric Laporte. His effort may well have been heading in, but excellent covering defending saw the ball deflect just over.
Out of possession, Marseille had defended with a back five at the Stade Velodrome. It had not worked. Today, it was effectively a back six, and now City were struggling to create. The game was further disrupted by an early injury to Eric Garcia, who was replaced by John Stones. As the game drifted, Marseille started to impose themselves.
The first warning sign came as Dimitri Payet, although clearly offside, curved a wonderful finish into the far corner of Zack Steffen’s net after being allowed a free run in on goal. With 10 minutes of the half to play, suddenly Marseille were fully on the attack.
First, a corner was half cleared to the edge of the City box, with Morgan Sanson volleying narrowly wide. From the restart, Steffen then inexplicably passed the ball straight out of play level with the penalty spot. Florian Thauvin crossed to Papa Gueye, whose excellent chest control resulted in a fierce volley from a tight angle which was well blocked by Steffen with his chest.
It was a reminder to City that Marseille, finally off their record run of 13 straight Champions League defeats, were not necessarily going to be a soft touch.
Half time: Manchester City 0-0 Marseille
At half time, Marseille were third and on track for the Europa League. You would imagine manager Andre Villas-Boas had told his players to keep it tight again, and look for opportunities on the counter.
Barely two minutes into the half, and that Europa League spot suddenly became a lot further away.
There was an element of luck, to be sure. However, it was wonderful play by Mahrez to slalom his way into the box that enabled the chance. Valere Germain managed to get a toe on the ball, but simply diverted it into the feet of Ferran Torres, who buried the ball past Mandanda from eight yards.
Marseille now needed a goal. Unfortunately for them, City were back on the gas pedal.
Phil Foden had two half chances from the edge of the box in two minutes, but his first effort was miskicked and the second saw Mandanda right behind it. Kyle Walker then hit an absolute piledriver first time from 25 yards, with the Marseille keeper doing well to beat the ball out, before a Torres shot was blocked behind by Alvaro Gonzalez.
In the 75th minute, Villas-Boas finally gambled, throwing on his attacking players in an attempt to snatch a result they did not merit. Their passiveness during the second half deserved zero reward.
Two minutes later, they were guaranteed their bottom spot in the group.
Foden swung in a corner onto the head of Nathan Ake, with his powerful attempt pushed down but not out by Mandanda. The ball rolled two yards out to the master poacher Sergio Aguero, on for Mahrez, to convert into the open goal. It was his third consecutive goal in Champions League home games, and welcome minutes for the Manchester Derby at the weekend.
Marseille now needed two. If they had played until Christmas, they would not have managed it. Utterly lacklustre, clueless in attack, going out of Europe with a whimper.
City even managed a third in the 90th minute, with a cross-shot by Torres palmed out by Mandanda straight into the unfortunate Alvaro Gonzalez. Raheem Sterling, on at halftime, gleefully accepted the gift, ramming the loose ball into the top corner from all of a yard out.
Marseille finish bottom of the group on three points, with City setting their best ever group stage tally with 16. Going into the knockout stages, they should be confident whomever they end up facing. Right now, however, the Manchester Derby awaits.
Full time: Manchester City 3-0 Marseille
Man of the Match: John Stones
If Ilkay Gundogan had remained on the pitch after halftime, he would be credited here. As he was taken off in preparation for the derby, Stones can be nominated instead. Completely assured in defence, ever positive building from the back. Long may it continue.