RB Leipzig 2
Manchester City 1
This was a reminder of more than just how joyless football behind closed doors can be as Manchester City’s defensive frailties in Europe were again exposed and Kyle Walker’s red card summed up an evening full of mistakes and rash decisions.
Walker will miss the first game of the knockout stage after blatantly kicking Andre Silva late in the second half. It was a petulant moment from a senior player which left Pep Guardiola unimpressed. “It was a clear red card,” he said frostily, adding: “It hurts us, especially for the round of 16. Kyle Walker is an important player and it is unnecessary to lose him like this.”
City’s manager was not in a good mood and his team’s propensity to concede too many goals in the Champions League is a concern looking ahead. It is likely to prove far more costly against the other elite sides in knockout games than it has in the group stage, where he argued his side had been “incredible” despite losing two out of their six fixtures, pointing out they had “topped the group with a game to spare”.
City, though, have not kept a clean sheet. They have conceded twice in three of those games for the first time since 2014.
History shows us that, at some point, it is the team that is able to score once and hold on to that lead that tends to win knockout competitions. That is exactly what Chelsea did to City in the Champions League final back in May – they should not need reminding of that.
There is no need to be too critical, merely cautious. City made seven changes to the side and were already assured of top spot. But City and Guardiola have been burned before in knockout games under pressure. They certainly cannot respond like Walker did here.
The visitors’ lack of urgency looked more like a lack of motivation. There was a lack of concentration at the back, too many mistakes, too many loose passes and a general malaise all over the pitch. It was, by some distance, City’s worst performance of the season.
On a normal match-day, with the home side needing to match or better Bruges’s result against Paris Saint-Germain to be certain of a place in the Europa League, the stadium would have been rocking. Hostile and intimidating, City would have walked out into the arena charged up. Instead, City meandered and dawdled and they had already been stretched, Konrad Laimer, who constantly broke forward from midfield, forcing a sharp save from Zack Steffen at his near post.
And the defence was broken by a brilliant through ball from the Austrian with the outside of his foot for Dominik Szoboszlai to run on to. The fact he merely went straight between Nathan Ake and John Stones, before rounding the goalkeeper, embarrassed City.
It should have been two soon after, Emil Forsberg left unmarked inside the area but shooting straight at the City goalkeeper. Steffen also made a brilliant save to keep out Andre Silva’s header from point-blank range when the Portuguese looked certain to score.
City did not get going and their one moment of brilliance came from the otherwise subdued Phil Foden, who hit a low shot, from just inside the area, that Peter Gulacsi brushed on to the post with his fingertips.
But the German side scored a second through Andre Silva after a loose pass from Stones had set Forsberg away. It looked like night over.
Chasing the game got their hearts and legs pumping, Riyad Mahrez pulling a goal back with a superb diving header from an inviting Oleksandr Zinchenko cross.
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