The approach the The Etihad seemed distinctly subdued to me. My car park was nowhere near full quite close to kick off and there was no raucous singing coming from inside Mary D’s. Inside the stadium with fifteen minutes to go only the German seats were anything like full. We talked about our very limited options and that fact that by selecting Sagna and Mangala, Pellegrini seemed to have chosen a weaker team than he could. Bayern were hit by injuries but Ribery, Robben, Lewandowski, Alonso and Neuer were all playing. Bayern had selected a strong side although the game was meaningless in terms of qualification for them.
As usual we discussed how our front men (man) would operate; Aguero was alone up front again and hasn’t always succeeded in that role. I reminded those around me that how we might play was a bit theoretical because usually we don’t see much of the ball when playing Bayern. All rather gloomy really.
City started with a much higher pace and sense of urgency than has been seen anywhere this season. Even Frank Lampard was running (lumbering) frantically trying to impress his experience on the mid field. To an extent it worked and we had more of the ball in the opening minutes than we usually see playing this annual European fixture. The truth though was that their passing was so much more accurate than ours. They received good and poor balls well and everyone knew how to make space for the next pass. Skill and intuition of the highest order. The portents were just not good as we had hoped.
Then Lampard lobbed a beautiful pass over everyone’s head to Aguero who had up to this minute received no sensible service from anyone. Instant control and acceleration took him towards goal where the defender Benatia tried to dispossess Aguero with a tackle from behind. Big mistake. Aguero went down in the penalty area, Benatia was dismissed and Aguero scored from the penalty. Now Bayern were down to ten men they surely wouldn’t be able to dominate the game as they had with eleven.
Wrong. A neutral would have guessed that City had the ten men as Bayern continued as though nothing had happened. Then a free kick for Bayern on the edge of our penalty area, awarded after an injudicious tackle by Mangala went round the wall and was watched into the net by an immobile Joe Hart. It was a training ground routine of course but we bought it and the score was 1-1. Within minutes Lewandowski beat Sagna to the ball after a long pass and shouldered the ball into the far corner again with Joe Hart looking hapless and wrongly positioned for 1-2 and Bayern were back in charge
Half time came and it remained 2-1 without City threatening their goal again. Perhaps, we hoped, they would tire in the second half. But as the second half went on it looked more like City who needed the fresh legs so late on Pellegrini sent on Jovetic and Zabaleta. This turned out to be a master stroke because a flick, I think by by Jovetec to Aguero, saw him though and score the equaliser. The significance was because the early kick off between CSKA and Roma had resulted in a 1-1 draw which meant that no decision about qualification was possible for Roma, CSKA or City until the final game. Now the crowd had hope so much more noise and encouragement could be heard above the orchestrated military din always provided by Bayern supporters.
Then in the dying minutes we remembered that famous QPR game. The ball came to Aguero who maintained his composure and upright stance with three Bayern players in close attendance and scored past the Neuer, “ the best goalkeeper in Europe” as he likes to be known. Now the stadium is erupting with hope and outrageous pleasure at having beaten arguably the best team in Europe after having played such a mediocre game. It’s nice to win well of course but there’s something very special about smash and grab and knowing that in future the records books will say nothing about Bayern’s resilience, skill and dominance with ten men but just the bald: Manchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2. We didn’t, I’m pleased to say go one step further and chant “Can we play you every week” because they might have said “yes” but we all looked forward to the stories about our little Argentinian genius and his hat trick against one the most accomplished sides we have ever seen. As a littlle bit of icing on this delicious cake, our youngsters had beaten Bayern 6-0 at Hyde earlier. They have already qualified and beaten Bayern 4-1 in Germany and 6-0 at Hyde last year too.
And so to Rome on December 10th where, after applying the labyrinthine Champions League competition rules from a book which only an organisation as inward looking and self-regarding as U.E.F.A. could devise, it seems from rule (f) about overall goal difference that a 1-1 draw will be enough making the reasonable assumption that Bayern will beat CSKA in the Allianz arena. 0-0 or a victory for Roma will see them go through on away goal superiority or points and if CSKA did manage to draw we would be fourth. The dreaded third place with an automatic penalty of having to play on Thursdays in the feeblest competition yet devised in the known Universe, would be unavailable to us and seems the unlikeliest outcome.
One last point: I’m not alone in finding football authorities largely incompetent or in the case of U.E.F.A and F.I.F.A. pretty despicable because when the U.E.F.A. anthem was played as the players lined up, the booing from the City fans was pretty loud from all parts of the ground.
So what are our prospects in Rome? Well in spite of the understandable euphoria they aren’t really very good. We always concede in this competition and Roma have had seven straight wins at home so we’ll need more of that Aguero inspired play to succeed. However let’s enjoy the moment. Today we can smile as the cynical football press have to put away their pre-planned stories about City’s defeat in Europe and Pellegrini’s possible successor and are forced to recognise than in Aguero we have one of the world’s top strikers on our books.