Sane stunner sets up City for superb comeback
Schalke 04 2-3 Manchester City
Down to 10 men, feeling deeply aggrieved in a Champions League tie that was engulfed in an extraordinary video assistant referee controversy, Manchester City responded magnificently with two late goals to turn this last-16 contest around.
They will go into the return leg expecting to qualify after another dramatic twist with substitute Leroy Sane - a product of Schalke's academy before his big-money move - scoring a superb free-kick to draw them level.
Then, after 90 minutes, Raheem Sterling struck in a tense encounter that flared up in injury time as players clashed inside the City penalty area.
Pep Guardiola's side had to play the last quarter a man down after Nicolas Otamendi was dismissed. He and Fernandinho are suspended for the second leg.
But first the biggest controversy came as referee Carlos del Cerro Grande awarded a penalty, after an unacceptable four-minute delay, that drew Schalke level despite not being able to see a replay because the pitch-side monitor was not working. He left it in the hands of the VAR, which is not the protocol issued by Uefa for such clearly contentious incidents.
Maybe it was too easy. Maybe City were too complacent. Well, there was no maybe about that. They allowed their first-half dominance to transform into an embarrassing deficit. One-nil ahead, after being gifted a goal, they went in at the break 2-1 down after conceding two penalties - both expertly converted by former Tottenham midfielder - Nabil Bentaleb.
It was extraordinary and had Guardiola rubbing his face and then banging his head softly on the back of his seat in understandable disbelief.
And this against a German side so shorn of confidence that they were simply hoping to avoid a heavy, tie-ending defeat. When, inside 90 seconds, Kevin De Bruyne bisected the centre-halves with a simple through ball to pick out Sergio Aguero in the penalty area, it was clear that it would be only a matter of time before City scored.
In the end it took 18 minutes and it was the kind of goal that had Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco staring into the distance wondering what his team had just done.
Half of them were calling for a foul on Mark Uth by Aymeric Laporte while the other half carried on. Unfortunately, one of those was goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann, who played a ridiculously underhit pass towards Salif Sane, with David Silva nipping in to steal possession inside the Schalke area.
He squared the ball for Aguero to tap into the unguarded net. It was that easy; that embarrassing although, of course, it also owed much to City's appetite for work and the pressing of the opponents - whoever they are - demanded by Guardiola.
Having finished second in the Bundesliga last season, Schalke lie 14th - closer to relegation than European qualification - this campaign and have won just twice in their past 10 league games.
Still they progressed in the Champions League, finishing ahead of Galatasaray and Lokomotiv Moscow and behind Porto in their group, losing just once and their hope was that this competition would provide a relief and maybe a rallying point. It did, again.
The first penalty came when a shot by Daniel Caligiuri was deflected away by Otamendi, with the Schalke defender leading the vehement protests that it was handball. Del Cerro Grande, after a far-too-long delay, referred it to the VAR and the penalty was given.
Now it was City's turn to protest. Otamendi was booked -already suspended for the second leg - before Bentaleb drove Schalke level.
The official was more decisive for the second penalty. City were so sloppy, so careless as they surrendered possession before David Silva needlessly conceded a free-kick.
From it Fernandinho pulled back Sane and the referee again pointed to the spot and again issued a yellow card. This one meant Fernandinho was also out of the return leg.
Bentaleb impressively held his nerve and beat Ederson on the other side of his goal. City - foolishly - were behind and needed to refocus.
It also meant City had conceded at least two goals in six of their past seven Champions League knockout ties and had their work cut out in turning this one around.
City were riled. City were angry. De Bruyne went close, then so did Raheem Sterling and then Aguero as they laid siege.
To rub salt into their wounds, Schalke's outstanding defender was Matija Nastasic, the Serbian who City had sold to them four years ago.
Schalke defended deep, packed their lines, made it hard for City to pick their way through.
With that, the frustration grew and not least because they were now having to work hard for the result.
They would have to work even harder. Otamendi tripped substitute Guido Burgstaller and received a second yellow card and then a red.
They still searched for the equaliser and turned to Sane, who made the difference. He curled home a dipping and swerving free-kick, from more than 25 yards out, over the Schalke wall to draw City level.
Magnificently they were not finished.
Sterling latched on to a long punt forward by Ederson and, as Bastian Oczipka slipped, he ran on and, from an angle, slid the ball past Fahrmann to win the match.