TOP OF THE GROUP! Manchester City have reached the knockout stages of the Champions League by winning Group G with a 0-0 draw in Germany against Dortmund, who also secured their place to progress in the competition.
We could argue that the 0-0 draw suited both teams, as Dortmund had hoped to secure their place in the next round of the Champions League, and the blues aimed to finish top of the group.
But was it a Champions League worthy game? Dortmund lacked bravery and spent the whole game parking the bus on home turf. Manchester City spent the whole game dominating possession without creating any chances – other than a missed penalty.
Mere days before the 0-0 draw, Pep’s side had been accused of being boring because we “always win”, and Haaland “scores too many goals”. The same media that now declare City are boring because we didn’t win. And they say women can’t make up their minds?
The starting side for Tuesday night under the Champions League lights included some surprises: Ortega, Stones, Dias, Ake, Cancelo, Rodri, Gundogan (C), Foden, Mahrez, Alvarez and Haaland.
In what seemed to be an ineffective 4-4-2, the blues struggled to break down the Bundesliga side, and in the first 45, struggled to contain their counterattacks which came down the left side, exploiting the space behind Cancelo.
Pep didn’t wait long, and at half time hooked Haaland and Cancelo for Bernardo and Akanji – a move that brightened up the blues.
The boss has admitted that both early substitutions were made as the Portuguese and the Norwegian were suffering from fevers and lethargy, with a slight concern over pain in the number 9’s foot.
Nevertheless, the subs worked well tactically. Whilst there was still the inability to breakdown the opposition defence, City were much more in control of counterattacks and had the home side pinned back.
City did have the opportunity to go ahead, as Mahrez was brought down clumsily, yet softly in the penalty area. As Mahrez stepped up, the vibe felt off and despite his courage in taking the responsibility he didn’t appear confident, and he missed another penalty.
The missed penalty and lack of form has understandably left some fans frustrated. However, Mahrez is now a major topic and target of brutal and unfair criticism from particular corners of the online football community. I expect Pep and the team will have his back and try to build back his form and confidence.
Alvarez was quiet for a lot of the game and didn’t quite link up with others as we typically see from him. He did manage to spin and get a shot off on target, but saw it saved quite simply for the keeper.
The work rate of Alvarez and the first touch of Mahrez combined would be an excellent force up top for City. But that’s another conversation.
Pep has been criticised online by fans for not starting Alvarez more often – I mean, getting in ahead of Haaland won’t be easy. Ultimately, in the games he has started, he hasn’t quite had the clinical impact of a top, top striker.
His pressing and energy, his work off the ball and the glimpses we have seen of his link ups are fantastic. Though there is an immaturity to the way he plays, and I can see a lot of development to be done before becoming a regular starter in such a composed and controlled team as City – given time to adapt, he will be brilliant for us.
Playing a front 4 left the attacking players isolated with a lack of creative link from midfield. It was a system that was made much more difficult with Dortmund’s deep defending.
We did see solid defensive performances from our centre back pairing, Dias and Ake. Which earned Ake the Etihad MotM – well deserved.
An assured performance for newcomer, Ortega, who’s spot in the starting XI benched Ederson. The new keeper looked comfortable and made a couple of saves and may be able to challenge Eddie for a starting place more often – perhaps Pep getting him involved ahead of the upcoming League Cup clash with Chelsea.
City fans were delighted to see John Stones back in the starting line-up after being injured during the last international break, a fine performance on his return and good minutes under his belt.
The game also saw short cameos from Jack Grealish for Foden and Palmer for Mahrez.
Blues will be hoping that City can turn around our home form and penalty conversion rates – Pep will no doubt be conjuring up solutions as we speak. But a solid result for City’s next step of the Champions League journey.
Hopefully, our home form will improve fast as we are set to face Leicester away from home, just as they have managed to turn their own poor form around, and we know how tricky they can be.
Tell us what you think of Tuesday’s Champions League performance?