Manchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2
The mathematical vagaries of Champions League pool play means Manchester City’s first victory in their group leaves them in a strong position to advance to the knockout stages when they complete their qualifying campaign with a visit to Roma in two weeks.
For that, as for so much of City’s success over the past three seasons, they can thank Sergio Aguero, the Argentinian international forward whose hat-trick against the 10 men of Bayern left his team’s Champions League campaign very much alive.
Thirty seconds into added time, Stevan Jovetic flicked on a long throw-in from Vincent Kompany and Aguero was well positioned to shrug off Jerome Boateng and finish expertly.
Until Aguero’s second goal, City’s equaliser, five minutes earlier it appeared that the Blues’ European campaign was to end in the same unproductive and frustrating fashion as had their other attempts to join the continent’s real elite.
But on 85 minutes, the only mistake of the evening by Bayern’s Xabi Alonso gifted the ball to Aguero who sprinted nearly half the length of the field, outstripping his markers before slipping the ball past Manuel Neuer.
“I’m very happy for us, the three points are very important,” Aguero said.
“It was difficult but we are happy because this game was very important. It was a game we had to win.”
City captain Vincent Kompany hailed Aguero as a “special” player.
“If you want to succeed at anything, you need a special player in a special form, otherwise you just don’t win anything,” he said.
“When he’s in that form he makes things achievable that otherwise wouldn’t be.”
City manager Manuel Pellegrini added: “All the big teams need big players and Sergio is a big player, a top player, and he’s very important.”
Now, after the thrilling and unexpected conclusion to another memorable showdown with the German champions, City know a victory in Rome in two weeks will be enough to take them through to the round of 16, as long as CSKA do not win in Bayern on the same evening. Further, a scoring draw could be enough for them to advance, subject to the complicated head-to-head mathematic in the group.
Yet, for much of the game, there had been no inkling of such an outcome. Handed a penalty, and a one-man advantage, after barely 20 minutes, City somehow contrived to throw away the lead brought them by Aguero’s spot kick.
However worrying City’s problems may appear in the Premier League currently, they pale into insignificance when compared to their inept showings in the Champions League thus far, especially allowing for the fact this is now no longer new territory for the club and players.
The two goals they conceded to Bayern within the final five minutes of the first half were perfect examples of the rudimentary errors that have plagued City in the competition.
Eliaquim Mangala brought down Robert Lewandowski on the edge of the City area presenting Alonso with a free-kick which should have presented City goalkeeper Joe Hart with far less concern than proved the case.
After Hart failed miserably in arranging his wall, Bayern defender Dante simply stepped aside, creating a gaping hole on the edge of the wall and presenting Alonso with a gap through which he passed the ball into the City goal.
City should have re-grouped, ensured they reached the interval without conceding again but even that relatively simple task proved beyond them as Bayern kept, and passed, the ball as if they had five more players, rather than one fewer, than their opponents.
The goal when it came was a relatively route one affair, however, as former City defender Jerome Boateng punted a long ball into the area, Lewandowski positioned himself superbly between Kompany and Bacary Sagna and steered a magnificent header into the far corner.
And, with those two moments of defensive ineptitude, City had undone the lead they had been gifted by a rare Bayern error, following Frank Lampard’s 20th minute pass to Aguero which forced Medhi Benatia into a mis-timed tackle that Czech referee Pavel Kralovec correctly viewed as a penalty.
As the last man, Benatia was also rightly red carded before Aguero beat Neuer.
But such are City’s tactical limitations and apparent inability to adapt as games progress, they could not wrestle possession from the Germans for the bulk of the remainder of the first half.
James Milner cleared the bar with a curling shot but home frustrations were mounting as Kompany and Lewandowski tussled with each other off the field and Gael Clichy was booked for hacking down Boateng.
Lampard’s well-struck 69th minute shot was tipped over by Neuer, a Samir Nasri free-kick was punched by the under-pressure goalkeeper and Kompany sent a scrambled shot just wide as momentum swung City’s way and set up a frantic, dramatic finale.
MAN CITY (4-2-3-1): Hart 5; Sagna 5 (Zabaleta 68, 6), Kompany 7, Mangala 6, Clichy 5; Lampard 7, Fernando 7; Navas 8, Milner 6 (Jovetic 66, 6), Nasri 8; Aguero 9.
BAYERN MUNICH (4-1-2-3): Neuer 8; Rafinha 6, Benatia 5, Boateng 6, Bernat 6; Alonso 8; Rode 6 (Dante 24, 6), Hojbjerg 7; Robben 7, Lewandowski 8 (Shaqiri 84), Ribery 7 (Schweinsteiger 80, 6).
Referee: P Kralovec (Czech Republic) 6.
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