Manchester City cruised to a 2-0 win over West Ham United on Wednesday as Pep Guardiola’s side returned to action for the first time following the club’s shock two-year ban from European competitions.
Goals from Rodri and Kevin De Bruyne lifted City’s spirits as they cemented their hold on second place in the Premier League.
The Champions League and Europa League suspension for alleged financial fair-play regulations drew a furious response over the weekend from City supporters who have long believed UEFA hold an agenda against their Abu Dhabi-owned club.
Yet the attendance at the Etihad Stadium for the visit of David Moyes’ struggling side was disappointing, with approximately 10,000 empty seats greeting the two sets of players before kick-off.
That may have been due, in part, to the fact the fixture was rescheduled from its original date 10 days earlier due to storms.
Live TV coverage and gridlocked early evening Manchester traffic also did not help supporters arrive in good time for a fixture in which their team was seeking to close the 25-point gap to leaders Liverpool.
It was a curiously subdued atmosphere, therefore, rather than the expected frenzied demonstration of anti-UEFA rhetoric.
There were a couple of home-made banners proclaiming “UEFA Cartel” and “UEFA Mafia”, as well as chants of adulation praising City owner Sheikh Mansour and boss Guardiola.
There were also taunts to UEFA that “we’ll see you in court” and crude songs aimed at the governing body.
But not until Rodri headed City into a 29th minute lead did City fans become truly animated as their team maintained their complete dominance against the visitors.
It is fair to say, however, that there will be a very different atmosphere when City next play at the Etihad in the Champions League, with Real Madrid the visitors on March 17 in the last-16 second leg.
City’s chief executive Ferran Soriano was clearly in combative mood when discussing the approach to their latest confrontation with UEFA.
“The fans can be sure of two things. The first one is that the allegations are false,” said Soriano, who confirmed the club will take the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“And the second is that we will do everything that can be done to prove so.”
Guardiola was equally defiant, vowing to stay at the club and backing their decision to fight the ban.
“It’s not finished. The club believes it’s unfair so we are going to appeal. We are going to fight like we have fought every single game,” Guardiola told Sky Sports after the match.
“We are optimistic that at the end the truth will prevail and next season we will be in the Champions League.
“No matter what happens I will be here next season.”
A second-half goal from De Bruyne at least ensured that City returned from the winter break, and five days of controversy, with the minimum of fuss.
However, it promises to be events in European law courts, rather than football pitch, that has the greater impact on the club over the coming months.