A second-half double from Julian Alvarez and Rodri’s late strike ensured that Pep Guardiola’s holders avoided one of the biggest shocks in tournament history and made a winning start in Group G despite Osman Bukari stunning the Etihad Stadium into silence with an unlikely breakaway goal for the visitors that came totally against the run of play before the interval.
City were absolutely dominant apart from that unexpected blip that came right on the stroke of half-time, amassing an incredible 37 attempts (16 on target) to go along with 12 corners and 77 per cent of the overall possession on the night, maintaining their ominous 100 per cent start to the new season with six wins from as many matches across all competitions thus far.
But despite that total control and the hatful of chances created they still needed a terrible blunder from Red Star goalkeeper Omri Glazer, who otherwise impressed on Tuesday with 11 saves including a string of top-class stops, to take the lead for the first time on the hour mark at 2-1 after the Israel international tried to punch clear Alvarez’s free-kick to the back post but missed horribly and instead watched on in horror as the ball flew straight in.
The lively Alvarez had earlier brought City level just two minutes after the restart - as Jeremy Doku did at West Ham on Saturday - with some delightful fast feet after linking up well with strike partner Erling Haaland, who has now gone four straight Champions League matches without a goal after striking the crossbar with a first-half header and later seeing a close-range effort deflected onto the post by Glazer.
City piled up chance after chance across the 90 minutes, with the likes of summer signing Doku, introduced in place of the injured Bernardo Silva as a late first-half substitute, Rodri and Phil Foden all going close either side of Ghana international Bukari breaking clear of Ruben Dias to collect Mirko Ivanic’s pass and slot beyond Ederson just before half-time.
The goal was eventually given after a lengthy VAR check for offside, sparking wild celebrations from the players, coaches and travelling fans, though reigning Serbian champions Red Star would only have two other attempts in total on the night.
City did eventually wrap up the win 17 minutes from time when Rodri, who also netted the winning goal in the Champions League final win over Inter Milan in Istanbul in June, sauntered into the box after good work from Foden and curled a brilliant low strike into the bottom corner.
With a minor scare successfully negotiated, City face arguably their toughest test on paper in a gentle-looking group next when they travel to Germany to face RB Leipzig on October 4.