From muppets to marauders – Manuel Pellegrini’s much maligned marvels produced a memorable night of Champions League magnificence… and yet it was marred by a mystifying miscalculation that Manchester City may live to regret!
As the whole of Europe took stock of City’s shock 3-2 win over the seemingly indestructible Bavarians, the Sky Blue’s manager was engulfed in controversy over what looks like a mathematical muddle in Munich.
On the face of it Pellegrini – ‘The Engineer’ – appears to have come up short in his sums, not realising that one more goal and a 4-2 victory, would have seen his brave blues overtake Bayern and beat the previously all-conquering Germans to top spot in Group D.
Not proven, but sounding suspiciously possible, the potential error would explain why City’s red hot striker Sergio Aguero stayed on the sub’s bench as defensive midfielder Jack Rodwell was introduced to replace Edin Dzeko in the final few minutes of this mesmerising match up.
Never on the same scale as Alan Ball’s catastrophic cock-up way back in 1996, when the flame-haired Manchester City manager told his team to play out for a 2-2 draw when actually needing to beat Liverpool to avoid relegation, it could, nonetheless be used as ammunition that, 17 years on, here was yet another example of ‘Typical City’.
Irrespective of whether or not those in power at City did, or did not, have the gumption to realise that under UEFA’s complicated rules a 4-2 margin of victory would suffice, not three clear goals, this was a night to savour…like chomping on a big German sausage and downing a warming mug of glűhwein!
A Manchester City team shorn of vital vertebrae Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero as well as star performers, Samir Nasri and Matija Nastasic beat a full-strength Bayern, bar the injured Arjen Robben.
In the daunting surroundings of the Allianz Arena, complete with meticulously choreographed crowd participation, as befits typical German efficiency, City achieved the unthinkable as their ‘mission’ went from improbable, to impossible to nigh on unbloodybelievable!
At 2-0 down inside 12 minutes (albeit to two suspiciously offside goals), defending with all the structure of an Eton Mess dessert and having seen the infuriatingly ‘fragile’ Micah Richards hobble off with yet another injury, City were teetering on the edge of a spanking promising more slaps than any local lederhosen dance troupe could ever muster!
In a turnaround of titanic proportions, City tore away at the smug serenity of their teutonic hosts, halting the beat of the annoying Munich drums and silencing the well practiced booming chants of the insufferably arrogant home fans.
Bayern’s hypocritical hierarchy, typified by Uli Hoeness – the man who pours scorn on City’s Arabic wealth, whilst allegedly hiding his from the German tax authorities – was apparently conspicuous by his absence when the time came to congratulating the City delegation on their hard fought win.
In stark contrast, Munich coach, Pep Guardiola was magnanimous and respectful as Bayern’s record-breaking run of 10 consecutive CL wins ground to a shuddering halt.
It also marked a personal milestone for Pellegrini who, at the 10th attempt, finally managed a victory over Guardiola, having lost eight of the previous nine match ups during his years at Villarreal, Real Madrid and Malaga, not forgetting City’s 2-1 loss in the pre-season Audi Cup ‘friendly’ at the Allianz this summer.
With seven changes to the side that had drawn at Southampton, Pellegrini made no secret of the fact that Saturday’s Premier League match-up with Arsenal was a priority before Bayern.
Having been so comprehensively outclassed at the Etihad in early October, when the 3-1 reversal flattered City, few, if anybody, would have backed them against the reigning European champions.
It was all going frighteningly to the envisaged script as first, Thomas Muller, looking fractionally offside scored in the fifth minute and then Mario Goetze, returning from an offside position, dumped the ball past Joe Hart from close range in the 12th minute.
City were in hopeless disarray, all at sixes and sevens – numbers that City fans were fearing Bayern would run up in terms of goals scored in a night of utter humiliation.
Franck Ribery was looking unplayable on the left and Muller toying with City on the right – it had all the portents of a terrifyingly bad night, one that would give Joe Hart no chance of redemption in City’s goal.
Nervous Joleon Lescott was having a nightmare almost scoring an own goal in a back pass mix-up with Hart before Bayern’s opener, while Martin Demichelis looked incapable of passing either wind or the gravy, let alone the ball, to a man in City’s snazzy white and blue-striped CL change strip.
After 16 minutes the luckless Richards hobbled off with what looked like a hamstring injury to be replaced by the warrior-like Zabaleta. It wasn’t planned but, on reflection, it was a significant change with the gritty Argentine skipper bringing much needed attitude to the flimsy back line.
It coincided with a swaggering Bayern letting their guard down enabling City to grab a foothold and stem the wave after wave of Munich attacks.
The despicable Dante personified his side’s conceited and contemptuous approach throughout the night, constantly pleading his innocence as he committed foul after foul after foul.
Having been booked in the first half he should have been sent off long before the end. As it was he was the only Bayern player booked, whereas City ridiculously had four yellow cards to Zabaleta, Fernandinho, Dzeko and man-of-the-match James Milner.
Milner – coming off the back of a poor performance at Southampton – was at the hub of everything positive in City’s game.
Likewise, David Silva, returning after limping out of City’s Bonfire Night CL win over CSKA Moscow, was the instigator of much of his side’s creative play. The Spanish magician conjured up City’s first response in the 27th minute, hooking home Milner’s deft header past Neuer in Bayern’s goal.
At the other end, the resolute and steady Hart – totally blameless for Bayern –goals, produced vital saves from both Ribery and Goetze.
Demichelis’ last second block on a Muller on the stroke of half time, kept City in contention at the break.
The jitters that had afflicted the defence and rendered City’s midfield almost invisible in the opening quarter of the match had now disappeared.
Good link up play from Milner and Silva saw Dzeko test Neuer in the 51st minute with a stinging shot. Seven minutes later Dirty Dante sent Milner tumbling in the box for a penalty.
Stand in skipper Aleksander Kolarov stepped up with his AK47-like sniper left foot and whizzed the spot kick past Neuer.
Visibly heartened by their unlikely comeback, City’s triumphant triumvirate on the night of Silva, Navas and Milner combined to enable the see the gutsy Englishman craft a beautiful curving finish beyond Neuer’s grasp just after the hour.
3-2 and amazingly, Milner became the first man from home soil to ever score for City in the Champions League. Substitute Negredo was denied by Neuer’s trailing right boot when he seemed certain to send City into ‘La La Land’ and make it 4-2 in the 82nd minute.
By now the previously imperious Germans were reduced to huff and puffing, fouling and diving, but all to no effect as City’s overall performance merited this most auspicious of wins.
Who’s to say that the introduction of Sergio Aguero would have yielded the goal that could have seen City win Group D and avoid the likes of Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona or PSG in the last 16 knockout stage?
If an under strength City can go and beat Bayern in Bavaria, achieve the highest ever CL points haul of 15 – and still not win a group – then I would suggest Europe’s elite will not exactly be relishing playing the men from the Etihad.
It was a brilliant achievement by Pellegrini and his team, arguably the club’s greatest ever night in Europe, bar the lifting of the European Cup Winners Cup in 1970.The best could yet be to come in 2014.
Let’s hope so because then, the pernicious media who are revelling in Pellegrini’s apparent inability to grasp the CL goals criteria, can then go and ‘get netted’ as City progress to bigger and better things.
By David Walker