Where there is Sergio Aguero there is hope, and so it was from the dying embers of what was potentially the most humiliating episode yet in their indifferent Champions League lives, Manchester City snatched victory.
Aguero 3, Bayern 2. There is no striker you would rather rely upon to stare down the best goalkeeper in the world three times, and beat Manuel Neuer on every occasion. Aguero is, quite simply, a brilliant individual who has sustained his team in some pretty bleak moments.
Manchester City vs Bayern Munich player ratings
Manchester City vs Bayern Munich player ratings
1/2 Frank Lampard
The 36-year-old rolled back the years with lovely pass in the move which ended in Aguero winning the penalty. Busy throughout. 7
2/2 Robert Lewandowski
The Polish striker was fouled by Mangala for the free-kick for Bayern equaliser and showed a fantastic poacher’s instinct for Bayern’s second. 7
It was his hat-trick that meant against a masterful Bayern team, who led until the 86 minute with just ten men, Manuel Pellegrini’s team secured their first victory of the group stages. It came for City with almost the last kick of the game having, at times looked like they could be given a lesson by Pep Guardiola’s magnificent team that would never be forgotten.
City are alive, although their Champions League destiny is not within their own hands. A scoring draw against Roma in their final group game on 10 December would be enough, as long as Bayern Munich, already qualified as the winners of Group E, beat CSKA Moscow. Guardiola promised after the match that his team would be competitive in their final game.
A win for City against Roma, and anything short of victory for CSKA, puts City through. Wins for both City and CSKA will mean that both finish on eight points and the Russians, who snatched a last minute equaliser in their game against Roma tonight, progress on the head-to-head record between the teams.
They will still be without the suspended Yaya Toure in Rome but they will hope that the likes of David Silva and Edin Dzeko return. There are no guarantees, but given how woeful results had been up until this victory it is not a bad position to find themselves in.
City went into the game knowing that even a defeat would not mean the end of their involvement in the Champions League, but at one stage of the game the scale of control asserted over them by Bayern – who lost Mehdi Benatia to a red card with 20 minutes played – threatened to overwhelm the home side.
In the end, Aguero completed his hat-trick in the final four minutes of the game, with two superbly executed runs on goal and finishes. Before then, City had taken the lead with the Argentine’s penalty following Benatia’s dismissal. But after that Munich had passed them to death and the goals from Xabi Alonso and Robert Lewandowski in the first half were a reflection of the superiority of the Germans.
It was a pity for the imperious Alonso that it was his mistake that led to Aguero’s second goal. Jerome Boateng’s lapse in concentration was critical in Aguero scoring the third, but arguably what was most memorable was the manner in which Bayern played with ten men prior to that.
Even with Benatia off the field, you needed to remind yourself at times that it was Bayern, and not City, who were playing with ten men. The away team controlled the first half to the extent that at half-time they had 65 per cent of the possession despite having been a man down for 25 of the first 45 minutes.
What a good team they are, with a manager who coolly reorganised his side after Aguero gave City the lead from the penalty spot. The Bayern system shifts continually, starting with a formation that could be described as 4-1-2-2-1 but even with a man down and the Brazilian Dante on for Sebastian Rode they lost none of their composure.
They were led by Alonso, that master playmaker, who brings all parts of the team together. Really, Bayern should have been ahead in the ninth minute when Arjen Robben clipped the ball into the area from the left and Rode had his shot saved at point-blank range by Joe Hart.
City never really got beyond them in the first half, aside from the penalty incident. It was Frank Lampard’s ball through to Aguero and once he got a shoulder in front of Benatia, you sensed calamity for the Moroccan defender. He would have been better off, given Bayern’s control, letting Aguero shoot but he tried to play the hero, lunged in and the Argentine went down at the first contact.
It was an easy decision for the Czech referee to dismiss the Bayern man and from the penalty spot Aguero scored his 15 of the season. It always takes a good penalty to beat Manuel Neuer and this was a good one, but City were unable to exert a grip on the game.
In fact, it was Bayern who seemed to grow into it with a midfield that did not seem the slightest bit diminished by having one fewer player. Their equaliser was a brilliant bit of thinking by Alonso - brilliant but simple. Fernandinho conceded a dangerous free-kick with a foul on Lewandowski just outside the area. With Hart ready to fling himself at one of the two top corners, Alonso used the proximity of the ball to the goal to roll it gently into the corner.
It was all so infuriatingly clever, and five minutes later City were a goal behind. This time Lewandowski got a bit lucky with a header that seemed to come off his shoulder and loop over Hart. There was nothing fortuitous about his smart run in between the hapless Vincent Kompany and Bacary Sagna to take advantage of the cross from Boateng.
It was brutal for City, whose uncertainty at times was matched by their opposition’s sheer mastery of the occasion. They had only really worked Neuer once, a firm right-footed shot five minutes after the break from Jesus Navas which the goalkeeper saved when Pellegrini made his first changes.
That was Stevan Jovetic on for James Miner, unlucky to be withdrawn when Navas had contributed less on the opposite side. Pellegrini appeared to have given up trying to disrupt the passing rhythms of the ten men of Bayern. Instead he seemed to be hoping that their defence could be overwhelmed and he was proved right.
And so came the fight-back. Alonso’s misplaced pass in midfield was intercepted by Jovetic and Aguero ran through to score. With four minutes left there was hope. In the final minute of normal time, Aguero scored after Boateng failed to clear a cross from the right and suddenly the picture changed. City went out the group stages with ten points in 2011. This time the bar has been sent much lower.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Sagna, Kompany, Mangala, Clichy; Fernandinho, Milner; Navas, Lampard, Nasri; Aguero.
Subs: Jovetic/Milner 65, Zabaleta/Sagna 66, Demichelis/Aguero 90
Bayern Munich (4-1-2-2-1): Neuer; Rafinha, Benatia, Boateng, Bernat; Alonso; Rode, Hojbjerg; Robben, Robery, Lewandowski.
Subs: Dante/Rode 25, Schweinsteiger/Ribery 81, Shaqiri/Lewandowski 83
Booked: Manchester City Clichy Bayern Neuer
Sent off: Benatia
Referee: P Kralovec (Czech Republic)
Man of the match: Aguero
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