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Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng Undoes Manchester City At The Last

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FOR Manchester City, it was a wretched way to lose and a lesson, perhaps, about just how brutal football can be at this level. They had subdued Bayern Munich until the moment the clock ticked over into its 90th minute, and Pep Guardiola was so exasperated he had left his technical area and was straying dangerously close to encroaching on to the pitch. Bayern had done little to discredit the theory that they have regressed since Guardiola inherited that brilliant team from Jupp Heynckes, but they still have great qualities of perseverance, and eventually it proved to be enough.

The goal arrived from the right foot of Jérôme Boateng, a former City player who is hardly renowned for his habit of volleying in last-minute winners. Maybe in those moments, City had been guilty of dropping too far back and inviting trouble. A few minutes earlier, Boateng had lashed in a shot that had Joe Hart sprawling full-length to keep the ball out and when he had his next chance he took it stylishly, arrowing his shot diagonally through a crowded penalty area and inside the far post. Around him, the players in blue fell to their knees.

Hart had played with distinction and, on the balance of play, Bayern certainly created enough chances to feel the late drama would not have been necessary but for the opposition goalkeeper. Yet City had been troubled only sporadically after the break. This was not the free-flowing, all-conquering Bayern that has menaced them before and Manuel Pellegrini was entitled to be aggrieved that his side had been denied a penalty a few minutes before the goal for Mehdi Benatia’s challenge on David Silva.

By that stage, Bayern had started to look short of ideas and the substitute Arjen Robben had resorted to his old trick of trying to manufacture a nonexistent penalty. Thomas Müller was prominently involved in the first half, almost scoring inside the opening minute, and Hart had played as well as any time over the previous year in that period. He could not keep it up after the interval, missing a couple of crosses, but he seemed to have a magnetic attraction to the ball inside the opening 45 minutes.

Yet Pellegrini’s side had started to put together some neat passing moves of their own before the interval and they played with a measure of control for long spells after the break. What they lacked was real penetration.

Their wide players, Jesús Navas and Samir Nasri, seldom threatened to get behind the home defence and Pellegrini had started with Sergio Agüero on the bench, preferring the greater physical presence of Edin Dzeko, in part to keep the Argentine back for Sunday’s game against Chelsea. Dzeko ran hard, but City always tend to look more dangerous when Agüero is operating through the middle, and they ought to be disappointed that they could not do more to trouble Manuel Neuer in the Bayern goal. It was rare to see them playing with so little dynamism going forward and, ultimately, the balance was not right between defence and attack.

By the hour, though, Bayern were starting to look frustrated and unusually careless. Neuer could be seen at one point playing a poor ball from his goalmouth to Benatia, who could only knock it out for a corner. Müller skewed one cross straight out for a goal-kick, and Guardiola, of all people, will not want to see a replay of when the ball came to him by the dugout and he tried to knock it back for Juan Bernat to take a throw-in. His pass sent it over Bayern’s left-back and another ball had to be fetched.

Guardiola looked mortified, rubbing his head with both hands. These were all small moments to encourage City.

They had started to look relatively comfortable by that point, with Fernandinho doing a fine job to shield their defence and Bacary Sagna deputising well at right-back for the suspended Pablo Zabaleta. Silva relishes these big occasions and almost scored with a diving header just after the hour. Not for the first time, however, Yaya Touré left the impression he is some way short of last season’s form. He was overrun and there was one slip when he lumbered to his feet, then made no attempt at all to get back to help his defence. Touré is a player of such distinction that it stands out when he is not playing well and it has become a recurring theme so far this season.

In theory, this was meant to be good time to face Bayern, with Franck Ribéry and Bastian Schweinsteiger among an extensive injury list and Robben restricted to a place on the bench. Yet City managed only two shots on target. They have kept only three clean sheets in 21 Champions League fixtures and Agüero, outpacing the Bayern substitute Dante, could not rescue them after Boateng’s sobering strike. – The Guardian

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