Man City left with unfamiliar group stage draw but not even VAR can stop Pep Guardiola’s side booking top spot

Porto 0-0 Manchester City: Striker netted the winner only for the Video Assistant Referee to chalk it off for an offside, though neither side appeared too concerned with Champions League progression secured

Mark Critchley
Northern Football Correspondent
Tuesday 01 December 2020 22:35
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A first goalless draw in the Champions League group stage for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City secured top spot in Group C
A first goalless draw in the Champions League group stage for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City secured top spot in Group C

A night where both sides got what they were looking for and to hell with the neutrals. Manchester City win their Champions League group with a game to spare and Porto will join them in the knock-out stages after sharing the points in a largely dry and dreary stalemate at the Estadio do Dragao. This was the first goalless draw that City have ever been involved in at this stage of the competition.

Pep Guardiola’s side cannot be accused of settling for a draw having spent much of the evening on the front foot. Porto were happy with a point to secure qualification and required an inspired display from goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin to secure it. But after an apparent return to form against Burnley at the weekend, this was another game where City’s attack lacked some of its usual sparkle.

There were moments of goalmouth drama, including a late Gabriel Jesus strike disallowed by VAR and one bizarre occasion where Ruben Dias cleared the ball off the wrong line, but the overall sense was of two teams who were not in desperate need of all three points. Guardiola will briefly celebrate a job done in topping Group C, which will allow him to rest players ahead of the forthcoming Manchester derby, and then move on quickly.

If the reverse fixture at the Etihad last month was a night of intensity and aggression, with the two managers almost coming to blows on the touchline, that same ferocity was entirely lacking from the first half, aside from one late tackle on Raheem Sterling in the penalty area by Chelsea loanee Malang Sarr which went curiously unpunished by both referee Bjorn Kuipers and VAR.

Otherwise, this was such a sedate affair that the opening half hour passed by without a single shot on goal. Admittedly, that statistic overlooks one rapid City transition which ended with Marchesin smothering the ball at Ferran Torres’ feet before he could get a strike away, but there was precious little else to write home about.

READ MORE: Liverpool secure progression to Champions League last 16

Anyone would have thought that both sides only required a point to achieve their objectives for the evening, but to their credit, City began to take a few more risks in order to break through Porto’s low block. Sterling was unlucky to see one effort cleared off the goal-line by Zaidu Sanusi after neatly cutting inside from the left and firing through a crowded penalty area.

It said everything about Porto’s approach that at half time, Marchesin had enjoyed more touches of the ball than any of his outfield team-mates. The goalkeeper had to be alert shortly before the hour mark when a crisp Phil Foden through ball put Sterling in behind. Again Marchesin rushed out to block, only this time not taking possession, but Torres took too long to strike the loose ball and the chance went begging.

Gabriel Jesus saw his effort ruled out by VAR

City really should have taken the lead 10 minutes later and would have if not for one of their own centre-halves bizarrely clearing the ball off Porto’s goal-line. Ruben Dias looked to follow in Sterling’s shot - which appeared to be drifting in by itself - but instead hooked it away, as if protecting his own goal. Torres sought to spare his blushes with a bicycle kick but the excellent Marchesin beat the ball away. Somehow, Porto had survived.

Nothing appeared to be enough to beat their goalkeeper but Jesus briefly thought he had a few minutes later, forcing another acrobatic save out of Marchesin only to follow in the rebound as it bounced down off the crossbar. City had brought their celebrations to an end and were making their way back to the centre circle by the time that VAR intervened, ruling the goal out for an offside in the build-up. Bernardo Silva’s trailing leg was the culprit, several stages back in the move. But given the evening's low stakes for City, there were ultimately few complaints.

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