An Australian in north London would have tittered. Tottenham might well have been fancying this at the weekend after all. At one stage, anyway.
He used to be of this stable, Ange Postecoglou, managing Manchester City’s Japanese sister club for a few years. So he’s seen City countless times but, sat on his couch, will not have witnessed many displays worse than this. Cause for optimism.
City looked like a team who had already qualified for the Champions League knockout stages – and that is not a criticism that can often be levelled at a relentless Pep Guardiola side. Loose, lax, occasionally lazy.
The Rodri impersonator won’t be asked back for a second gig. Ruben Dias has grown his hair so being 100 per cent certain it was definitely him out there proved difficult.
But then they woke up, they sorted a two-goal deficit, and made sure that they would go beyond Christmas as group winners, in theory securing a more comfortable last-16 tie. They preserved their long unbeaten home record in the Champions League of almost 1,900 days. They even won it at the end via Julian Alvarez.
Manchester City top their Champions League group for a SEVENTH year in a row
Tottenham might well have been fancying this at the weekend after all. At one stage, anyway
Lois Openda opened the scoring for RB Leipzig in the 13th minute of the game on Tuesday
The 23-year-old extended Leipzig’s lead in the 33rd minute of the game, much to City’s shock
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But worries will exist for Guardiola. This was not his City for lengthy spells. Maybe it’ll be good in the long run that the performance happened on a night when defeat would not have been disastrous, more an inconvenience.
On a day when new celebrated old around these parts, the game at the end of it felt more Kevin Keegan than Joe Mercer for a fair chunk.
Mike Summerbee has enjoyed shorter days, although the length of this one eventually looked worth it. He was down at the stadium just before 9am to witness the unveiling of his permanent tribute, flanked by Colin Bell and Francis Lee. Up in the directors’ box for 8pm.
Summerbee was overwhelmed by the morning occasion, before a commemorative brunch inside. ‘Unbelievable,’ he said, which also aptly described Manuel Akanji’s defending when RB Leipzig took a shock lead much later on.
Akanji, all over the place from goalkeeper Janis Blaswich’s long punt forward, allowed Lois Openda to wriggle free and calmly sidefoot beyond Ederson’s deputy, Stefan Ortega. The lively Xavi Simons had already curled wide by the time Openda was giving the visitors a 13th-minute advantage.
Openda is one of Belgium’s great new hopes, the striker attracting attention across Europe after his summer move to Germany. The country’s other major prospect, Jeremy Doku, was sat on the bench watching his compatriot tear City apart. His act would come later.
One became two shortly after the half hour and again City were to blame. Lured into a challenge he would never win on halfway, Dias allowed Openda to skip towards the City box again. Taking his time, he eased aside Josko Gvardiol’s advances and tucked home.
Pep Guardiola was furious with his team and half-time couldn’t have come sooner for City
However, things improved in the second half and Haaland found the back of the net for City
Foden equalised for City with a beautifully taken goal in the 70th minute of the game
Either side of that, Rico Lewis and Erling Haaland blazed presentable opportunities over the bar. Dias missed a sitter from Bernardo Silva’s freekick. It had supposed to be a celebration of City’s past as the present rolled on effortlessly but Leipzig – fifth in the Bundesliga – were catching the defending champions cold.
‘Dad would be mortified about having a statue out the front,’ Jon Bell, son of the club’s greatest ever had said. He’s no longer with us, Bell, passing away almost three years ago. Neither is Lee after the forward and ex-chairman died last month. That neither were outside the main stand to bask in the bronze glory hit Summerbee hard.
‘Deep down he’d be proud,’ Bell Jnr said. ‘He wouldn’t necessarily show it. This invites kids to ask about that team, to ask about the history and where we came from. And then they can enjoy Haaland, (Kevin) De Bruyne and the future.’
There was very little enjoyment for them here. Defensive mistakes, big misses and an agitated manager.
Dias, who should have seen red just before the break, was sacrificed for his own good. Doku and Alvarez were sent for nine minutes into the second half and seconds later, Haaland was reducing the arrears.
Phil Foden’s first positive contribution of the night, slipping Haaland through, came from clever work by Alvarez. The Haaland finish: typically sublime. The substitutions had livened up the Etihad. Doku’s unpredictability and desire to entertain provokes reactions. City inched closer, Nathan Ake heading wide Alvarez’s cross.
With 20 minutes remaining, they were level and Foden growing into this game was the catalyst for the comeback. Gvardiol progressed forward, punching into the academy graduate on the half-turn just outside the box. One touch to set himself as he pirouetted, another to push ahead and the third caressed into the corner.
Only one winner from there, right? Perhaps not, had Liverpool loanee Fabio Carvalho held his run that little longer, Leipzig would have been in a position to snatch it. Comeback complete though, with three minutes to spare, as Foden’s involvement again sparked confusion for Leipzig, Alvarez sorting his feet and thrashing in.
But, it was Alvarez who found the back of the net to secure all three points for Man City
As a result, Manchester City have topped their Champions League group for a seventh time