Sergio Aguero scored 10 minutes into his return from injury as Manchester City cruised to a comfortable Champions League triumph against Marseille.
City were already ahead, after Ferran Torres slid in his fourth goal in five group-stage outings, when Aguero was introduced for Riyad Mahrez midway through the second period.
The prolific Argentina forward has made just four appearances in almost six months – and been restricted to a solitary 12-minute substitute appearance in City’s past 10 games – by a combination of knee and hamstring injuries.
Aguero’s comeback is significant – City’s official Twitter feed heralded it as the ‘return of the king’ – and evidently he has lost none of his legendary scoring instinct, judging by the way he reacted quickest to bury the rebound after Nathan Ake’s header had been saved.
It moved the 32-year-old onto 41 Champions League goals and level with Neymar, who got a hat-trick earlier in the day, in the battle to be the competition’s top South American goalscorer – with the obvious exception of Lionel Messi, who has 118.
More importantly, it puts Aguero in line for a start in Saturday’s Manchester derby at Old Trafford as City, who wrapped up victory through Raheem Sterling in the final minute, look to take advantage of a United side reeling from their Champions League exit on Tuesday.
The victory earned City a number of notable milestones.
A group points tally of 16 from six games is their biggest haul and matches the most achieved by any English club at this stage.
However, while Arsenal (2005-06) and Tottenham (2017-18) also managed the same tally, only Manchester United (2007-08) used it as a springboard to win the competition.
City also conceded only one goal in topping Group C, a feat last achieved by fierce rivals Manchester United among English clubs, in 2010-11.
Before a trip to Old Trafford, Pep Guardiola could not have asked for a more straightforward assignment, although it was not without one negative.
The City boss has been one of the most vocal managers expressing concern about the physical demands expected of the players this season.
So he probably was not surprised to see defender Eric Garcia, whose contract expires at the end of the season, unable to continue after suffering what seemed to be a hip injury midway through the opening period.
Garcia’s exit brought John Stones into the fray.
From looking like he had no City future when he went two months without a Premier League appearance following the £65m arrival of Ruben Dias from Benfica, Stones has suddenly muscled his way back into Guardiola’s plans.
And, in a first half devoid of any real goalmouth action, Stones slid in to deny Valere Germain a shooting chance in one of the few moments of danger around the City goal.
The lack of activity was bittersweet for USA keeper Zack Steffen, who was making his Champions League debut.
Steffen was only called upon once in the first half, to block a Pape Gueye effort from an acute angle that was probably going wide anyway.
He had even less to do in the second half, when he was reduced to the role of spectator, which is almost certain to be his role at the weekend, with Ederson due to return to the starting line-up.
Torres second only to Raul – the stats
- Manchester City have progressed as group winners in each of their past four Champions League campaigns.
- Marseille have lost eight consecutive Champions League away games for the first time – a run that stretches back to 2012.
- Ferran Torres has scored four goals in five Champions League games for Manchester City, twice as many as he netted for Valencia in the competition (two goals in nine appearances).
- Among Spanish players, only Raul (eight) scored more Champions League goals before turning 21 than Torres (six, level with Cesc Fabregas).
- Manchester City’s Ederson is the first goalkeeper to keep five or more clean sheets in the Champions League group stages for an English team since Pepe Reina for Liverpool in 2005-06.
- Raheem Sterling has scored seven goals in all competitions this season, more than any other Manchester City player.
Manchester City face Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Premier League on Saturday, 12 December (17:30 GMT).
- 50GarcíaSubstituted forStonesat 28′minutes
- 8GündoganSubstituted forSterlingat 45′minutes
- 26MahrezSubstituted forAgüeroat 67′minutes
- 20Bernardo Silva
- 9Gabriel Jesus
- 17De Bruyne
- 2H Sakai
- 4KamaraSubstituted forRongierat 67′minutes
- 26ThauvinSubstituted forAkéat 75′minutes
- 22GueyeBooked at 39minsSubstituted forStrootmanat 75′minutes
- 28GermainSubstituted forBenedettoat 75′minutes
- 10PayetSubstituted forCuisanceat 67′minutes
- 11de Lima
- Halil Umut Meler
Match ends, Manchester City 3, Marseille 0.
Second Half ends, Manchester City 3, Marseille 0.
Fernandinho (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Valentin Rongier (Marseille).
Own Goal by Álvaro González, Marseille. Manchester City 3, Marseille 0.
Attempt missed. Phil Foden (Manchester City) left footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the right from a direct free kick.
Ferran Torres (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Kevin Strootman (Marseille).
Foul by Raheem Sterling (Manchester City).
Marley Aké (Marseille) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt saved. Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Phil Foden.
Corner, Manchester City. Conceded by Álvaro González.
Goal! Manchester City 2, Marseille 0. Sergio Agüero (Manchester City) right footed shot from very close range to the bottom right corner following a corner.
Attempt saved. Nathan Aké (Manchester City) header from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Phil Foden with a cross.
Corner, Manchester City. Conceded by Álvaro González.
Substitution, Marseille. Darío Benedetto replaces Valère Germain.
Substitution, Marseille. Marley Aké replaces Florian Thauvin.
Substitution, Marseille. Kevin Strootman replaces Pape Gueye.
Offside, Marseille. Morgan Sanson tries a through ball, but Valère Germain is caught offside.
Substitution, Marseille. Michaël Cuisance replaces Dimitri Payet.