Outstanding goalkeeper does his talking between sticks
City’s Hart got his team out of jail, writes PAUL WILSON
ROBERTO MANCINI said Manchester City had to stop conceding easy goals, Yaya Toure agreed the defensive mistakes had to be cut out. Joe Hart wisely kept his opinions to himself on this occasion, though it was simple for anyone to work out that a team yet to keep a clean sheet this season and conceding at a rate of almost two goals per game would struggle to reach the heights of the last domestic campaign, let alone do justice to themselves in Europe.
Once again paired with one of the most attacking sides in the Champions League in a group even more difficult than the one they entered as rookies last season, the champions of England really needed to hold out until half-time against the champions of Germany to give themselves any hope of a result that would help atone for the points thrown away so late in last month’s 3-2 defeat at Real Madrid. They accomplished that target reasonably impressively, for even though they were indebted to Hart for a string of wonderful saves there were chances at the other end that could and perhaps should have been taken.
But when the deadlock was finally broken after just over an hour City once again had only themselves to blame. They made a defensive mistake and conceded an easy goal. Jack Rodwell was only on as a substitute following an injury to Javi Garcia, but under no particular pressure in the middle of his own half he played a pass blind and paid the price. Marco Reus was onto it in a flash to prevent it reaching its target, and though Hart had performed miracles all evening even he could not keep this shot out.
Despite Mario Balotelli’s late equaliser, this was far from the Champions League statement of intent City had been hoping to make – though they can only reflect that but for their inspired goalkeeper the damage could have been much, much worse.
Just reaching the interval on level terms was no mean feat, since few visiting teams will turn up in Manchester with such a bold attacking strategy. Dortmund’s plan was clearly to punch holes in the City defence right from the outset with a high speed yet precise passing game that at its best would bewilder even the most organised of defences, though the longer the home side held firm the more likely it appeared that the Germans would tire and be forced to drop their intensity.
Sure enough, Dortmund had slowed up just a little by the mid-point of the first half. They still looked dangerous every time they went forward but in a more conventional sense. They had stopped fizzing around like mustard-coloured fireworks and City could not only cope with that, they could begin to make chances for themselves, principally through David Silva’s close control and vision. Silva had already made an excellent chance for Sergio Aguero in the opening minutes, only for the Argentine striker to shoot against the goalkeeper.
Aguero proved he could do better with the goal in his sights when he almost opened the scoring with a shot from outside the area, only to be foiled when Roman Weidenfeller arched backwards to tip the effort over. If City were unlucky not to take the lead on the stroke of the interval when Silva could not adjust his feet in time to take advantage of Pablo Zabaleta’s cross to an unguarded far post, fortune smiled on them seconds later when they were caught with too many men too far up the pitch and Hart again had to prevent a goal when Ilkay Gundogan looked odds-on to score.
Maybe Mancini knew what he was doing when he requested his goalkeeper to concentrate on stopping the shots, because that is precisely what he did. Without Hart’s saves, City could easily have been two or three goals in arrears by the break. The eye-catching Mario Gotze, in particular, must have wondered what he had to do to score after being foiled again by Hart in the second half.
Typical City really, even in Europe. They could have been thrashed, they could conceivably have won. What they did instead was lose concentration and leave themselves with an awful lot to do.