Manchester City Shows Hart in Champions League Group Play Finale
Manchester City went to the Allianz Arena knowing that a 3-0 win would secure their progression as Group winners. That would be nice, but with a steady stream of important games ahead it was never going to be the case that Manuel Pellegrini would risk his key players. That was a thought confirmed when the team sheet was announced with no Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo or Pablo Zabaleta in the starting lineup. Also missing from the squad entirely was Samir Nasri. Instead Joe Hart was recalled to keep goal while the two England potential options for Brazil, Joleon Lescott and Micah Richards were selected in defense.
Up front, as the lone striker, was Edin Dzeko. The Bosnian will no doubt be at the World Cup next year, but his performances for his club were not on a par with the ones for his country. Tonight on a big stage, he would have his chance. I must admit that I was nervous before the game started with the selections, but as I said earlier, I understood the reasoning and just had to hope the boys given the nod would step up and give the manager a selection headache for the weekend.
Nerves were not settled early on when a needless and misplaced back pass from Lescott went out for a corner. The England defender was unaware his goalkeeper had come out of his goal, and whether he got a shout from Hart or not is irrelevant. City were lucky the ball drifted out of the corner. Minutes later Thomas Muller put the hosts a goal up and it was shaping up to be a long night for City a goal down with 85 minutes still to play. It would get worse seven minutes later when Gotze made it 2-0.
The reason Pellegrini went for this lineup initially was to not get any star players injured, but Pablo Zabaleta was required on sooner than expected as Micah Richards limped off with 15 minutes on the clock. Things would get better for City, though, as they finally started to get a handle on the game. To see David Silva start was good, but to see him score and reduce the deficit was fantastic from a City perspective. The rest of the half was not all that bad, and despite a few last ditch tackles and saves from the back line City were certainly still in it. When the halftime whistle blew it must have been Pep Guardiola who was the most frustrated at the score line and the inability to put the visitors away after the start they had.
The second half was much more an even affair, and with half an hour to go James Milner was brought down in the area by Dante and the referee pointed to the spot. Up stepped Captain for the day Aleksander Kolarov who did something City fans didn’t expect, stroked it calmly into the corner to level up the scores. From then it was all City and two minutes later the 2-1 deficit became a 3-2 lead when Milner finished neatly from a Jesus Navas cross.
That scoreline was unexpected especially after the start the visitors had and, although it would be a great result, it wouldn’t be enough to lift them above Bayern and into that top spot. For that to become a reality they would need another two goals and win by a 4-2 scoreline. Surely this was out of the question. I think Pellegrini believed because with just under twenty minutes left he brought on the Beast, Alvaro Negredo for David Silva. Now two up front could City make it uncomfortable for the hosts late on?
In the end it proved to be that one step too far, but to see Bayern Munich time waste and hold the ball up in the corners certainly speaks volumes as to how threatened they felt. City won 3-2 on the night and now look forward to whomever they get in the New Year.