Pretty routine that. City gently toyed with Bayern Munich, lulling them into a sense of false security, and then pounced when necessary.
Ok, maybe not. Another euphoric Aguero moment breathed new life into a moribund season.
So with everyone squabbling with what would be the best result in the early kick-off, it turned out that a day of late drama in the group might well shape who eventually qualifies. With CSKA grabbing a late equalizer (and an undeserved one if the highlights are to be believed), it meant that amazingly City could still qualify even if they lost to Bayern. God bless the Champions League. It still sucks.
An interesting team sheet once more, with Fernando predictably screening the defence, but more surprisingly Sagna preferred ahead of Zabaleta. Mangala was trusted in a big game ahead of Demichelis. I have no idea on what basis Pellegrini makes such decisions. This is not a criticism, I just have no idea. Press reports had hinted that the manager would try something different, and so it proved. Lampard’s experience was called upon too with Milner starting once more.
And so to the game. It was nip and tuck but it was clear to see from the start the class of the opposition. They passed it around sublimely, but created just one half-chance. And then City broke and the game seemingly turned on its head, as City won a penalty for the clearest of fouls and Benatia was rightly dismissed. Stupid rule, but it exists, so he had to go.
If that penalty had been turned down, then I would actually begin to believe that football is bent. It was nice to have an agreeable referee for once, to the extent that he even managed to award a goal-kick to City after Hart tipped an effort round the post early doors.
A good penalty by Aguero, unstoppable even though Neuer went the right way, and all looked good. City had Bayern where they wanted them, and it was a great opportunity to assert our authority and make a bold statement. Sadly, it didn’t quite turn out that way. A free-kick conceded by Managala in a dangerous position, and you know what followed next.
For that goal, the blame has to go to Hart – after-all, the ball rolled past his feet. You can blame the wall, but then it is his responsibility to build that too, so whichever way you look at it, he messed up. He clearly didn’t see the ball in time and once Dante stepped out of the way, there was a gaping hole that should never have been there.
As for the second goal, it’s not great defending by Kompany who can’t get to the ball, nor Sagna who was out-muscled by Lewandowski too easily, but the goal was lucky, as it looped off his shoulder to the one place that Hart couldn’t get too. I’ve seen Hart get criticised for this goal too – I’ve no idea why. Yeah he was a bit out of goal, and he does have a tendency to make a small foot movement in the wrong direction sometimes, but I doubt he would have got to it if he was on the line anyway, so I don’t see how it’s relevant.
So onto the second half. City huffed and puffed, but couldn’t find a way back a well-organised team who continued to pass the ball around with ease despite their numerical disadvantage. It was frustrating as we didn’t seem to have the guile to break them down – more on that later. But ten men inevitably tire, and it told in the end, just as I had given up hope – that’s once more the prelude to a 3-2 Aguero-inspired win.
Apart from the obvious brilliance of his goals, extra points to Aguero for flattening Neuer in the net after the equalizer. Further bonus points for scoring that winner despite being barged in the back – such strength in that tiny frame.
Three shots, three goals, and only the second ever player to score a hat-trick against Bayern.
90 goals in 138 games.
He does alright does Sergio.
And if the late goals proved anything besides Kun’s majesty, it’s that Bayern Munich players are not deities, and if you pressure them, then they can make mistakes too.
Articles can come back to haunt you (and I should know). Prior to the game, I read an interesting article by Michael Cox, of Zonal Marking fame, commenting on how City have regretted letting Jerome Boateng go. From my memory there wasn’t much choice. He played poorly, even if he was played out of position and seemed homesick too. It still seems ridiculous of me to say, but despite all the trophies he has and will win, I am still not convinced by him, and think if Bayern do have a weakness it is in central defence. But what do I know? Still, it was Boateng who handed City victory, a nice bit of karma for his flukey goal in the first match.
Before we deal with City “papering over the cracks” in the game, let’s deal with simple facts so that we don’t have to discuss it much further. Ready? Well, basically Bayern Munich are better than us. We knew that before the match, and we knew it during the match. They are supremely talented, their movement, guile and incessant pressing making light if a man disadvantage. There’s nothing new to discuss, they have perhaps the best manager and some of the best players in the world, they are extremely experienced in big games, in all competitions, and have a style that is ingrained through all their squads. We aspire to this and have spent heavily and won domestic success off the back of that, but we all know, and nothing that happened tonight could change that, that we have a way to go to match the likes of Bayern or Real Madrid. You can argue amongst yourselves as to whether we should be there already, there’s no right answer. Our owners obviously want a similar ingrained style running through all squads and ages groups and we are beginning to reap rewards in the kids’ teams, but it will take time to ingrain itself in the senior team and more tinkering and removal of deadwood will be required along the way.
Having said that, I did comment in the second half that there seemed a lack of intensity in our play. We seemed almost resigned as we ran up against brick wall after brick wall. Pellegrini does deserve some credit this time around for not playing two upfront and for trying lofted balls into the channel to catch out Bayern’s high line and pressing but we just couldn’t retain the ball enough to make it count. We did well to completely cut off Bayern’s threat in the second half, but they were probably quite comfortable knowing we weren’t threatening enough either. I commented to a friend that they were comfortably winding down the clock – 3 seconds later and Alonso misplaced a pass to Stevan Jovetic.
Still, let’s take the win, whether it was deserved or not. Bayern won the first game with a deflection, we should have had a penalty prior to that and CSKA’s equalizer from the penalty spot was one of the worst decisions I have ever seen, so despite all our abject play, we could have had a much higher point count prior to the game. Being in a three-way fight for qualification is probably fair.
The substitutions worked quite well. Milner did his usual job but wasn’t hurting Bayern, and Jovetic made a difference, as did Zabaleta, who gave extra energy down the right, though he almost got himself sent off in that time. Sagna did ok without excelling, Mangala was generally excellent, though conceded the free kick that led to the goal with a needless foul and was nowhere to be seen for the second goal, though he shouldn’t have been needed anyway. Still, he did better than our other summer defensive target Benatia.
As for Navas, I’ve no doubt he’s being slated as we speak, but it was normal business for him – he offers a lot, our attacking threat often came down the right side, but he frustrates in equal measure and often made the wrong final pass – again, a mixed bag.
Some extra observations: the atmosphere was still muted, but the drama that lifted the decibel levels shows that sometimes it needs players to lift a crowd – they too have to play a part, and when they do, the results are instant. There’s little surprise at the lack of atmosphere when you consider that as Aguero stepped up to take the penalty at least two people in front of me were recording the game on their phones, more concerned about uploading a Youtube clip than actually watching the match and celebrating what could have been a crucial goal.
Sergio managed to speak some English after the match – about time. As for Joe Hart’s moustache – he’ll be counting down the days until December 1st.
A large paranoia section this week – yay! It was as clear as a Scholes mis-timed tackle that as the “ginger prince” sat in the studio with a face like a slapped arse that had been dragged backwards through a nettle bush (you get the gist) that Adrian Chiles would comment on how the game didn’t matter to Bayern Munich. City and Bayern stand at three victories each during their Champions League duels, but of course some would have you believe none of City’s three wins mattered. It’s b***ocks, because Pep Guardiola is a perfectionist and his team would have loved to have beaten City and dumped them out of the competition. As Guardiola said after the match – “we didn’t come here to holiday, we came to win.”
Perhaps there is the smallest of drops in intensity, but to say they weren’t trying is laughable. His team selection showed that he wanted a win, and their effort in defending their lead with 10 men added further weight to that argument. History is full of teams playing other teams at opportune times, and United won plenty of titles winning games at the “business-end” of seasons playing teams who had nothing to play for and they didn’t get called lucky and nor should they – the law of averages gives you situations like this. It’s been a tiresome narrative from some ever since City “spent a billion” on the team (another lie, naturally) that every triumph has a caveat to it. If it’s not the fact that they have bought success, it’s something else. I have read endless times that City won both league titles only because other teams threw it away, these dimwits struggling to comprehend the concept of a league, whilst conveniently ignoring the fact that on both occasions City put together a winning run when it really mattered under great pressure. The Liverpool narrative is especially ridiculous as it has been painted that they threw it all away despite the fact that they lost just one game to a rather useful team named Chelsea – a game they could hardly expect to win. Their collapse against Crystal Palace was irrelevant – City would have won the league anyway.
Rant over – for now.
Oh no, there’s more. An additional argument is that Bayern Munich played a weakened team. Needless to say, not starting with Silva, Toure, Fernandinho, Zabaleta or Kolarov is neither here nor there it seems.
Oh god, another rant. I should be happy today! The description of City as a “one-man team” is up there with phrases like “there was contact”, “I’ve seen them given”, “you can’t raise your hands” and “you can’t send him off, it will ruin the game”. So well done Sergio, for your brilliant goal keeping last night, those three goal-line clearances, the way you marshalled the midfield, the three assists for your goals and all that superb wing play. We’d have been lost without you. Where would we be without Aguero? Where would Barcelona be without Messi? Where would Real Madrid be without Ronaldo? What would I call my aunty if she possessed two testicles?
So, report after report stated how City were outplayed, and I too have mentioned how good Bayern were. But it’s hard to accept you have been outplayed by a team who didn’t create a clear-cut chance. How does that work? This is all part of the modern obsession with statistics as a guide to how well a team has done, in this case possession stats. Chelsea won at Liverpool in April with 27% possession. Real Madrid beat Bayern last season with 31% possession. No one called them lucky, because they weren’t. And City weren’t lucky either, because they scored more goals than Bayern Munich, games last for 90 minutes and the away team scored from two of only three forays on goal. There were no controversial decisions in the game, so the result is fair. Bayern Munich tired, made mistakes, and paid the price.
Bless Clive Tyldesley for trying to recreate the Agueroooooo moment in his own 3-2 moment. It didn’t really work, it never could, but credit to the normally pointless Andy Townsend for yelping “get in!” as Aguero stroked home the winner.
In the end, that winner might not matter at all. The permutations for the group have confused most media outlets it seems, and confused me too yesterday when I got it all wrong, but the fact is that a win in Rome should see us through as I think it rather unlikely that the perfectionist Pep Guardiola will allow a team to his to roll over, especially at home. What’s more, their third team should beat CSKA. Defeat in Rome and we know we’re out of Europe altogether. A draw should see us stay in Europe, but in which competition? A score draw would see us through, a goalless draw won’t. So let’s start with the basics – we need to score in Rome.
Is this a turning point in our troubled relationship with the Champions League? Only time will tell, as in two weeks’ time we could all be disillusioned once more, but you only had to look at how the drama of the game had buoyed everyone’s spirits as they streamed out of the stadium to realise that at last, the competition had delivered something special for us all to saviour. About bloody time.
Congratulations to Jamie Jackson for mentioning the atmosphere at the Roma game in his “five talking points”. He never disappoints.