Gabriel Jesus marked his return from injury with a fine finish as Manchester City beat Olympiakos to maintain their 100% record in Champions League Group C.
City had taken an early lead through Ferran Torres’ cool finish but made hard work of what should have been a straightforward night against the Greek champions.
They needed Jesus, who had not played since 21 September because of a knee injury, to come off the bench and fire home their second with nine minutes remaining, blasting into the roof of the net from a narrow angle.
Another substitute, Joao Cancelo, added gloss to the scoreline when he brilliantly curled home a third before the end.
This was the third time City had scored three goals in a European win in the past three weeks and, coupled with Porto’s victory over Marseille, means Pep Guardiola’s side need only a point in the return in Greece on 25 November to make the knockout stages for an eighth successive season.
That made it the perfect night for City, who welcome Premier League champions Liverpool to Etihad Stadium on Sunday but, in truth, it was a far from convincing performance that got them the points.
City had poured forward in the opening minutes and got their reward when Torres exchanged passes with Kevin de Bruyne and coolly slotted home for his fourth goal of the season.
But instead of building on that strong start, City went backwards – firstly by failing to turn their first-half dominance of possession into further chances, and then by playing themselves into trouble.
Olympiakos barely made it out of their half before the break but grew in confidence after half-time, and were only let down by poor finishing.
Phil Foden’s loose ball to John Stones inside his area should have been punished by an equaliser but Mathieu Valbuena inexplicably sliced wide of a gaping goal.
Youssef El-Arabi brought a first save out of Ederson soon afterwards, but Jose Holebas blasted wastefully across goal after dashing into the area down the left.
It took Jesus’s introduction to settle City’s nerves and avoid a tense finish, with Cancelo making absolutely certain of victory from the edge of the area.
Torres has proved an able deputy up front in the past couple of weeks but the sight of Jesus back in action – and back in scoring form – was surely the most satisfying part of Guardiola’s night.
In the absence of Jesus and fellow striker Sergio Aguero, who is still sidelined, City have used Torres and Raheem Sterling to lead their line with mixed success.
The way Torres took his goal, collecting De Bruyne’s pass and taking the ball past Pape Abou Cisse before slotting home, was a sign of his burgeoning confidence as well as his finishing ability.
But the 20-year-old Spaniard is a winger not a natural striker, and the return of Jesus is a timely one, especially before Liverpool’s visit this weekend.
Jesus does not always provide goals to go with his industry when he is the fulcrum of City’s attack, certainly not at the rate of Aguero in any case.
But he looked sharp and lively when he came on with around 20 minutes remaining, and his finish was a reminder of what City have been missing without either of their first-choice centre-forwards.
The last time City played a Champions League game just before taking on Liverpool was almost exactly a year ago, and it turned into an eventful night.
They lost Ederson to injury in a group game in Atalanta, Claudio Bravo was sent off and Kyle Walker ended up in goal for the last 10 minutes.
Ederson ended up missing the crunch clash with the Reds, which City lost 3-1, leaving them nine points adrift – a deficit they would never recover.
This time, Guardiola was far more cautious with his selection, which clearly had Jurgen Klopp’s side in mind.
Ederson played this time too, but Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte, who have already established themselves as City’s first-choice pairing at the back, were rested and so were Bernardo Silva and Rodri in midfield.
It means City do not just go into the weekend on the back of three straight wins, they do so after managing to give some key players a much-needed break from action – a rare luxury in what has already become a frenetic campaign.