THE truly astonishing thing about what happened here in that wild, breathless finale is that, ignoring for one moment the extraordinary five-minute spell when Manchester City shocked maybe even themselves, it had been another night to expose their shortcomings in Europe. They had been out-passed, out-thought and frequently humbled by a Bayern side that were down to 10 men after 20 minutes and Manuel Pellegrini would have faced some difficult questions but for what happened next.
Many of those questions are still legitimate but if there is one thing that cannot be said of Pellegriniâ€™s team it is that they lack qualities of perseverance. â€œWeâ€™ll fight to the end,â€ goes the song, and what a recovery in those last few minutes when Bayern Munichâ€™s resolve disintegrated and Sergio AgÃ¼ero turned this game upside down. It was the same net where AgÃ¼ero had produced his 93:20 moment after the comeback of all comebacks. This one did not quite match the levels of hysteria but the euphoria, nonetheless, was extreme.
AgÃ¼ero made it feel as though he must be immune to nerves on those two occasions when he ran clear to face Manuel Neuer, the best goalkeeper in his business. He had opened the scoring with a penalty and when everything was done his hat-trick had left City knowing that a scoring draw, when they face Roma in Stadio Olimpico, will be enough to qualify through the back door, as long as CSKA Moscow are incapable of beating Bayern in the Allianz Arena. The permutations are numerous and merely add to the chaotic feel of those final exchanges, when Pep Guardiola seemed to be straying dangerously close to the point of spontaneous combustion.
Bayern, even with 10 men, had an unerring knack of keeping the ball. Another team might have wilted after Mehdi Benatia was sent off for bringing down AgÃ¼ero for his penalty. Bayern needed only a few minutes to shake their heads clear. They dominated possession â€“ with 64% of the ball in the first half and 56% by the end â€“ and Uefaâ€™s statistics also showed the 10 men made 563 passes compared to Cityâ€™s 403. Even in defeat, Bayern had left an impressive calling card.
They had also a midfielder in Xabi Alonso who demonstrated so much supreme control on the night of his 33rd birthday it felt almost absurd that he inadvertently set up AgÃ¼eroâ€™s second goal with a loose pass. Alonsoâ€™s free-kick to make it 1-1 was, in the vernacular of the schoolground, a pea-roller, played low and across the ground to pick out the bottom corner and expose some poor organisation between Joe Hart and his defensive wall. Yet Alonsoâ€™s contribution had been about much more than the equalising goal until he gave the ball to the substitute Stevan Jovetic and AgÃ¼ero raced away to score with a left-footed finish.
Eleven-versus-eleven, Guardiolaâ€™s team had been strutting around to their own game of keep-ball. A man down, the Bundesliga champions seemed absolutely determined to show they could hold their own. City, in stark contrast, had looked erratic and prone to making mistakes. Alonsoâ€™s goal came from a foul by Fernando in a position where he should have been operating with more care and Robert Lewandowski had Vincent Kompany and Bacary Sagna around him when JÃ©rÃ´me Boateng swung over the right-sided cross for Bayern to take the lead. On the verge of half-time, Lewandowski benefited from some fortune as the ball spun off his shoulder to loop over Hart but his run had been brilliant.
Bayernâ€™s only real mistake in the first half came in the form of Benatiaâ€™s poor positioning and mistimed challenge after Frank Lampard had clipped the ball over the top for AgÃ¼ero to scamper clear. It was the way City surrendered their lead that was startling. Their problem was getting any control or momentum in the middle and the atmosphere, once again, was strangely subdued for the most part.
Perhaps the climax to this game might help Cityâ€™s crowd to start embracing this competition a little more. It needed something remarkable and Alonso duly provided it with the misjudgment that had Guardiola hopping with exasperation on the touchline. Alonso had made 94 passes whereas, to put it into context, Kompany had Cityâ€™s best figures with 52. This one, however, was a terrible lapse and AgÃ¼ero is too formidable an opponent to offer those kind of gifts.
A draw would have flattered City but then came the moment when the previously immaculate Boateng went to intercept a routine ball forward and promptly surrendered it to AgÃ¼ero on the edge of his own penalty area. AgÃ¼ero deserves great acclaim for his perseverance, with that stocky, muscular frame, before breaking clear with the ball and holding his nerve again. Neuer was beaten for a third time and City, the team that fights to the end, will go to Rome in a new and unexpected position of strength. – The Guardian