City finally got of the mark in Group D after sealing a dramatic late 2-1 win at Borussia-Park, despite showing many of the defensive problems that proved their undoing at the weekend. City travelled to Mönchengladbach hoping for a change in fortunes after yet another stuttering start in Europe’s flagship competition. The two sides have only met once previously in Europe, in the UEFA Cup way back in 1978-79. The German side were victorious on that occassion, going on to lift the trophy after putting City out.
Manuel Pellegrini came into the game hoping for a change of luck this time out in Germany, especially after the mishap with his passport in the build up to the game, where City have lost three of their last four Champions League trips. The former Premier League champions have also faced a German side in the group stages in every appearance. After collapse against Juventus in Matchday 1 after taking the lead, City came into this having lost seven of their last 11 in Europe.
City made 2 changes from the side that capitulated against Spurs at the weekend, with Joe Hart back in to replace the much maligned Willy Caballero, while there was a further lift with the return of David Silva in midfield, replacing Fernando who dropped to the bench. There he was joined by EDS graduates Brandon Barker and Pablo Maffeo, both being named in a Champions League squad for the 1st time, while George Evans, who has been gaining well deserved recognition of late, was also named as a substitute.
City should have taken the lead early on, when Agüero was presented with a fantastic opportunity to end his drought after great play from Sterling down the left, but the Argentine could only watch in horror as the keeper somehow kept the ball out. A City corner then caused a scare at the back when a missed volley from Kevin De Bruyne allowed Borussia to play the perfect counter attack with pace down the left. Fortunately for Hart, and the City faithful, the shot was dragged just wide of the mark.
Demichelis was then at fault, when a sloppy piece of possession almost let the home side in again, but City were able to recover. Alarm bells were ringing again minutes later, however, when Raffael broke, and after some clumsy defending from Otamendi, the Brazilian forward went down. Replays suggest the contact was minimal, and the forward was already going down prior to any contact, but nethertheless, after a conversation between the referee and official behind the goal, the penalty was given. Raffael himself stepped up to take the spot kick, but England number 1 Joe Hart produced a fantastic save to keep the sides level.
Hart was called into action again just after the half-hour mark, as Raffael again found space in behind Otamendi, but the England keeper made himself big enough to snuff out the danger, before once again denying the hosts the lead with another big save, this time from Herrmann. Stindl then went over in the box under a tackle from Fernandinho, but the referee this time booked the Borussia forward for a dive, although replays suggest that decision as well might of been harsh, although in defence of the Brazilian midfielder he did look to pull out of the tackle.
At the other end, City continued to be sloppy in possession and wasteful of any chances they did forge out, and somehow at the break the game was still 0-0. There was no real surprise to anyone who watched the first half at the break, as City threw on Fernando for Yaya Toure in an attempt to shore up the defensive unit of the team. Toure, to be fair, still looked to be struggling from the injury that saw him subbed at the weekend, but in reality offered little in the first half!
The second half started in much the same vein as the first ended, Hart again doing magnificently to keep the score at 0-0, this time as Raffael broke to get on the end of a flick on, only to see his shot parried away, although the striker looked more than a little offside in the initial build-up. Minutes later City went up the other end, and neat interchange between the attacking quartet and Kolarov resulted in a corner, although Borussia were able to clear their lines from the set piece.
City then found themselves under the cosh again from a corner, a volley in the box appearing to hit Fernandinho on the hand, although there was little he could do to get out of the way. On the break, Sergio then had a great chance to play in Sterling, but held onto the ball too long and the opportunity was wasted. It was to prove costly as there was hardly any surprise when the home side took the lead. Kolarov went missing down the left, and an inch perfect pass picked out a completely unmarked Stindl in the box, and this time the finish was to prove too good for Hart.
City found themselves level in rather strange fashion just after the hour. From the corner, Demichelis appeared to bundle the ball over the line, but somehow both the referee and fourth official failed to give the goal. Fortunately, Otamendi was following in, and smashed the ball home via a Mönchengladbach defender. Replays show the ball was quite some way over the line, raising further eyebrows after the Ospina own goal at the Emirates last night as to why a competition so highly rated by many doesn’t have goal line technology.
Sergio then almost gave City the lead, only to once again be denied by Sommer, before Navas saw his follow up cleared off the line, although it looked to be going wide. City began playing with a new wave of confidence, and were definitely in the ascendancy since the introduction of Navas for Silva and the equaliser, and the Mönchengladbach back line had to be extremely alert to clear the danger when Agüero was again lurking in the box.
There was more drama at the death when City were awarded a penalty after Agüero was felled by Christensen. The striker, who had quite a few opportunities to break the deadlock, made no mistake on this occassion as he sent Sommer the wrong way. City almost added a third in injury time, as Sergio was quickest to react again, but Sommer produced yet another wonderful stop to deny the Argentine, taking a knock to his face in the process.
The keeper was clearly reeling from his heroics, with blood pouring from what appeared to be a broken nose. Quite rightly, with the injury been to a goalkeeper, play was held up while he received treatment for the injury, while City took the opportunity to throw on Pablo Zabaleta for Raheem Sterling, a first appearance for the full-back this season after picking up an injury playing for Argentina in the summer.
When play was eventually resumed, the corner came to nothing, and despite failing to keep the ball City were resolute in defence and able to see out the victory, and pick up their first Champions league points of the season in the process. Despite the defensive frailties, it was clearly evident that City were the better team for large parts of the second half, showing the undoubted class we all know they possess. Perhaps also telling was the fact that the shape and system looked better after the withdrawal of Silva and introduction of Navas, although which of those two factors it was down to remains debatable.
Despite the criticisms, and there could be many, City become the first English team to win in Mönchengladbach, and deserve credit for that.
Mönchengladbach: Stindl 54
Manchester City: Otamendi 65, Agüero 90 (pen)
MOTM: There can be no doubting that Joe Hart was head & shoulders (pun intended) above all his team-mates tonight, doing his best to keep the side in the game when the defence continually failed. Had less to do as the game progressed, thankfully, but once again showed why he’s the best in England for me.
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