Thursday 22 February 2018

De Bruyne hits injury-time winner to complete City comeback

Manchester City 2 Sevilla 1

Kevin De Bruyne strikes Manchester City's winning goal against Sevilla
Kevin De Bruyne strikes Manchester City's winning goal against Sevilla

Jason Burt

The roar as Kevin De Bruyne left the pitch, substituted immediately after scoring the elegant goal that brought Manchester City such a desperately-needed Champions League victory, said it all.

Once again City have been far from convincing in this competition but with a 90th-minute winner, following on from that late revival that led to victory against Borussia Mönchengladbach away in their previous tie, they have overturned convention and the relief was palpable. Finally, perhaps, they can progress with a degree of comfort to the group stages?

With City that would be a premature assumption not least because they have Sevilla away - and the Spaniards were mightily unfortunate to lose this match - and Juventus, last season's finalists, also away, to face in their reverse fixtures in Group D.

But D is also for De Bruyne and the Belgium international has made such an impressive start to his career at City that it was highly appropriate that when Yaya Touré strode forward in injury time it was the 24-year-old he sought.

De Bruyne shot low and into the net before manager Manuel Pellegrini took him off as he frantically shored up his defence. It was that tight, that tense.

This tie appeared rich with importance and, for it, Pellegrini decided to leave out Vincent Kompany. The captain was on the bench and it had the feeling of a big call, especially with City already shorn of Sergio Agüero and David Silva through injury.

Kompany had annoyed Pellegrini by playing for Belgium in the recent international break, with City insisting he was not fit, and with the manager questioning if the defender's body could withstand playing three games a week.

It was a decision that was immaterial as long as one thing happened: City won. But it was a decision that appeared hugely questionable, when they fell behind - which followed a series of close calls inside their penalty area in which a central pairing of Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi, all £74m of it, looked far from convincing.

Still it took a mistake by another expensive acquisition, De Bruyne, to provide the opportunity for Sevilla as he lost possession close to his own area. The ball ran to Vitolo who shimmied away from Mangala's lunge and crossed low for Yevhen Konoplyanka to side-foot home from 10 yards.

There had been warnings. The Ukrainian had already struck the post. It came direct from a free-kick, out on the right, which Konoplyanka cleverly bent around the defensive wall to catch out Joe Hart and cannon back of the goal frame.

Eventually the ball fell to Grzegorz Krychowiak - a midfielder coveted by City as well as Arsenal - who forced a sharp block from Hart with a drive. Central defender Timothee Kolodziejczak then flicked a header across goal, wrong-footing Hart with Mangala scrambling clear.

Having fallen behind City needed an immediate response. Otherwise familiar anxieties would grow.

They quickly earned it - owing much to the trickery and power of Touré, who worked his way to the byline before cutting the ball back. It rattled around the area before finally falling to Wilfried Bony, who skewed a shot that struck Adil Rami and beat the dive of goalkeeper Sergio Rico.

There was a surge of relief.

Before the goal it had been Jesús Navas - against the club who City had signed him from after a decade of service - who had provided the greatest threat with his pace. Both Touré, with a curling effort that was deflected onto the roof of the net, and De Bruyne, who dragged a low shot across goal, had gone close, while Bony had fired straight at Rico.

It was in the balance. Victory for either side would install them as a favourite to progress from this group, although the failure to do that would be unthinkable for City.

But it should have been Sevilla who went back ahead when they, all too easily, carved through down the City right, with Benoît Tremoulinas chesting the ball down and crossing for Kévin Gameiro, unmarked, to send a header over from close range.

City were pressing - but also being sucked in. They held sway on possession, with De Bruyne prominent, but Raheem Sterling was struggling to impose himself, and City lacked an edge. They lacked Agüero. Bony had helped force the equalising goal but had proved largely ineffective.

Touré teed up De Bruyne, who again dragged an effort across goal before he fashioned space for another low drive to ricochet off a defender. Sustained pressure was finally building. "Come on City," implored the home supporters.

It seemed like a forlorn hope before De Bruyne struck. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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