More than twenty Red Dragons made their way from London and beyond to Manchester’s Etihad Stadium for week five of the Champions’ league group stage, as Bayern looked to maintain their hundred percent record in this year’s competition. It was a game of dramatic twists and turns that would see the visiting Bayern fans shocked after twenty minutes, ecstatic at half-time and left simply speechless at the end.
With the men from Munich already through the knockout stages and guaranteed top spot the match was ultimately of little consequence for Pep Guardiola’s men, but this would not prevent their slightly weakened an reworked team from giving their all in what turn into a pulsating and at the end rather bizarre encounter.
The coach made two key changes to the eleven that had started against Hoffenheim at the weekend, with the inexperienced pairing of Sebastian Rode and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg coming in for Thomas Müller and Mario Götze to form a new-look attacking midfield partnership. The two teams took to the field on what was an uncharacteristically mild but slightly damp late November evening in Manchester, and during the pre-match formalities both sets of fans were united in turning their back on the playing of the UEFA anthem as a protest against the organisation’s shoddy treatment of away fans in Moscow.
The home team started brightly, but after this initial flurry Die Roten quickly settled down and found their rhythm, bossing the play in the middle of the pitch with consummate ease – much to the annoyance of the somewhat subdued home supporters. The visiting supporters meanwhile were in great voice, keeping things going with a steady stream of anthems from the Südkurve song book.
Bayern were well on top as the game approached the twenty minute mark, but out of nowhere things were suddenly turned on their head. A well-timed ball into the Bayern box from ex-Chelsea man Frank Lampard was played towards Sergio Kun Agüero, and the muscular Argentinian outmuscled Medhi Benatia before being clumsily brought down by the Moroccan centre-back. The whistle blew, and the referee pointed to the penalty spot.
Although the Bayern fans protested the Czech official’s decision from the stand replays showed that there was little doubt about the correctness of the decision, but his showing Benetia the red card had been more than a little harsh. Whether he was the last man was arguable and the challenge had been more goofy than malicious – but the number five had to go.
Jeers rang out from the Bayern end as Agüero dusted himself down to take the penalty, and although Manuel Neuer did brilliantly in diving to his left the Argentinian’s Elfmeter was perfectly placed to give the home side a slightly flattering lead.
The Bayern coach responded to this technical setback by bringing on Danté and sacrificing the unfortunate Rode, and while the defence was able to retain its shape the midfield had to find ways of coping with the one-man deficit with both Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben shifted away from their out and out flanker roles to adopt a slightly more defensive position. City looked to press immediately after the restart, but the ten-men Bayern side quickly recovered their poise after what to other teams would have been a mortal blow – particularly away from home.
At times Bayern never looked as though they were a man down, and their positive play was rewarded five minutes before the break. After Robert Lewandowski had been brought down just outside the eighteen yard box, Spanish genius Xabi Alonso almost nonchalantly rolled the ball past the sky-blue defensive wall and past a leaden-footed ‘keeper Joe Hart into the bottom corner of the net. The city ‘keeper could arguably have done better, but nobody had been expecting that.
Xabi Alonso’s free-kick brings ten-man Bayern back into the match
A rampant Bayern continued in this vein as half-time approached, and just moments before the whistle sent all of the visiting supporters into a seething, delirious mass. Jérôme Boateng sent in a high looping ball from the right touchline, and the roving Lewandowski beat his marker to guide a looping header into the top right-hand corner from eleven yards. The home crowd were reduced to silence.
Nobody would have known Bayern had played for more then twenty minutes and had come back from a goal down with ten men: as well as leading 2-1, they had also dominated the possession stats with a scarcely believable 65%.
Robert Lewandowski celebrates Bayern’s second goal that would see them take a 2-1 lead
The start second half saw the Bavarians look to consolidate their lead, retaining possession intelligently whilst continuing to look dangerous as they passed and weaved into opposition territory. City had their chances with Jesus Navas testing Neuer and James Milner shooting wide, but as the clock ticked on it looked as though Manuel Pellegrini’s side would be undone by not just a weak Bayern side but a weak Bayern side with ten men.
Robben had a good sight of goal but only could scuff a weak shot straight at Hart and at the other end Lampard forced Neuer into a flying save, but with Bayern holding their shape and the ‘keeper in good form one could sense the desperation of the home crowd. While the visiting supporters had been in good voice throughout even when Bayern were trailing, the home fans remained strangely silent, eliciting a rendition of “you only sing when you’re winning” in near perfect English from the Südkurve.
Neuer made his way into the referee’s notebook for procrastinating over a goal-kick and Bastian Schweinsteiger replaced Ribéry to loud cheers from the Bayern fan corner, and as the game entered the final five minutes Bayern were seemingly strolling to a fifth straight Champions’ League victory… Only for what can be described as a moment of horror.
Bayern were keeping the ball safely, but a badly-timed looping pass across the field by Alonso was intercepted by City substitute Stevan Jovetić. The Montenegrin found Agüero, who unlike many others refused to be fazed by the figure of Neuer as he tucked ball past the Bayern ‘keeper into the bottom right-hand corner. Alonso had been outstanding up to that point and on another day that pass would have elicited applause, but on his thirty-third birthday it had been the Spaniard handing out the presents.
The home crowd suddenly sparked into life, and as they started to smell blood one could suddenly see the space left by the missing man in the Bayern team. The home side continued to press as the clock ticked into injury time, and right at the death were presented with another gift. Boateng had been excellent all evening with a strong and assured performance, but in dealing with what should have been a simple clearance he manged to get into an awful tangle. Unable to gain control of the ball the centre-back was robbed by the irrepressible Agüero, whose calm and composed finish completed what had been a dramatic finale.
A dejected Manuel Neuer is left to pick the ball out of the back of his net after Sergio Agüero’s late winner
Bayern had almost seen things through with a man down, but two arguably avoidable mistakes in the closing stages had effectively handed City the three points on a plate. However, the Bayern fans remained in good voice as the team mad their way to the touchline after the final whistle. While disappointed with the defeat, it was a game where Bayern fans could once again be proud of their team. Football is what it is, but there was no way that Bayern deserved to lose.
It was Bayern’s first defeat since the DFL-Supercup against Borussia Dortmund in August, and once again their mission to go through with a perfect record would had been scuppered by Manchester City – almost a year after the Citizens’ comeback from two goals down to register the same 3-2 scoreline at the Allianz Arena.
Ultimately the result wouldn’t really matter for Guardiola’s side, but they will be looking to round off the group stage at home to CSKA Moscow. City meanwhile are now in a three-way battle for second spot with the Russian Champions and AS Roma.
UEFA Champions’ League Group Phase Week 5
City of Manchester (Etihad) Stadium, Manchester, 25.11.2014
Manchester City 3:2 (1:2) FC Bayern
Agüero 22 pen, 85., 90.+1. / Alonso 40., Lewandowski 45.
Manchester City: Hart – Sagna (68. Zabaleta), Kompany (c), Mangala, Clichy – Fernando – Jesus Navas, Lampard, Milner (66. Jovetić), Nasri – Aguero (90.+4. Demichelis)
FC Bayern: Neuer (c) – Rafinha, Boateng, Benatia, Bernat – Alonso – Rode (25. Danté), Højbjerg – Robben, Ribéry (81. Schweinsteiger) – Lewandowski (84. Shaqiri)
Yellow Cards: Clichy, Zabaleta / Neuer
Red Cards: – / Benatia