Hart the hero as Manchester City continue to confound
Sergio Aguero’s last-minute penalty earns win despite poor performance
Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero celebrates scoring their second goal from the penalty spot. Photograph: Reuters
GROUP D: Borussia M’gladbach 1 (Stindl 54) Manchester City 2 (Otamendi 66, Aguero 90pen)
Manchester City continue to confound. They appeared headed for a night of frustration and a draw until the 90th minute when the misfiring Sergio Aguero won a penalty after being felled by Fabian Johnson. Up the striker sprang to slot past Yann Sommer and Manuel Pellegrini’s team had got out of jail on a major scale.
It meant that despite not performing as they should from front to back – the outstanding Joe Hart apart – they ended with three points and their qualifying campaign is up and running.
The XI Pellegrini fielded was about the only one he could choose. The injuries to Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala, the first choice centre-backs, meant Nicolas Otamendi and Martin Demichelis were again paired. The captain’s failure to recover was the biggest miss as Kompany had been in imperious form before limping out of the opening Group D game with Juventus with the score at 1-1.
City went on to lose their first game once again and, as with last year’s match-day one defeat at Bayern Munich, this placed heightened emphasis on match-day two.
Twelve months ago Pellegrini’s side drew with Roma; this time he insisted victory was the aim. “For our team it is important to demonstrate we can qualify for the next stage. We lost three points in the first game against Juventus so it is important to recover now,” the manager said.
After Joe Hart’s goal had twice been threatened by balls in behind City showed the intent Pellegrini promised. Aleksandar Kolarov threaded a ball into Raheem Sterling that in turn was squared across Sommer’s goal. It found Aguero, but the usually lethal striker’s attempt was hit straight at Sommer.
City can be crisp and slick in their play; they can also be sloppy. Kolarov delivered a sweet corner that illustrated the former; in his first act on a return to German soil, Kevin De Bruyne’s air-shot illustrated the latter.
This was compounded by a slip from the 24-year-old that allowed Raffael to launch a counterattack. The forward raced towards Hart and slipped the ball to Patrick Herrmann but his effort went wide.
On Saturday Otamendi had been part of a defence that conceded four at Tottenham Hotspur. Now he conceded an 18th-minute penalty for fouling Raffael. If there was doubt about this – Raffael may have been looking for the challenge – Clement Turpin, the French referee, had none.
Otamendi was about to have Hart to thank. The goalkeeper delayed Raffael by taking a drink and when the Brazilian stepped up a fine save to his right followed.
As Borussia rued the miss Hart remained focused. After a German corner came to nothing Hart launched a kick down the right to Aguero, sending the centre-forward racing clear. He should have given City the lead but for the second time the 27-year-old spurned the chance.
Hart proved the visiting footballer of the first half, Raffael his home counterpart. As the clock ticked towards the break Hart made a sharp save from the number 11. Moments later, Raffael waltzed through the City defence, rolled a reverse pass to Hermann, and this time Hart’s save was even better.
Lars Stindl went down as Fernandinho challenged him inside the City area. This time, though, Turpin booked the forward and there was no penalty.
For the second half Yaya Toure, who had been quiet, was replaced by Fernando. This may have been due to injury. More certain was how the game continued to be the Raffael-Hart show. Seconds into the period the 30-year-old was again in on City’s goal and again Hart was his team’s saviour.
He was the only member of the rear-guard who was functioning as expected. Borussia seemed able to wander through it at will. There was a corner from which the ball dropped dangerously inside City’s area and Fernandinho was forced into a desperate charge down of a shot.
Finally, Andre Schubert’s men had the opener they had long threatened. Julian Korb was allowed to go unchallenged before he crossed from the right. Further slipshod marking meant Lars Stindl was in yards of space and this time Hart was given no chance.
Could City respond? Would the month end with yet another defeat? The answer to the first question came within 10 minutes.
De Bruyne swung over a corner from the right which struck Demichelis’s knee and appeared to cross the line before being hit away. The officials failed to award the goal but Otamendi did finish it to the net via a deflection and City were level. And relieved.
That emotion deepened into huge satisfaction with their late, late show from Aguero.
BORUSSIA MÖNCHENGLADBACH: Sommer, Korb (Traore 78), Christensen, Dominguez, Wendt, Herrmann (Hahn 72), Dahoud (Nordtveit 84), Xhaka, Johnson, Raffael, Stindl. Subs not used: Heimeroth, Drmic, Hazard, Marvin Schulz. Booked: Stindl, Korb, Dominguez.
MANCHESTER CITY: Hart, Sagna, Demichelis, Otamendi, Kolarov, Toure (Fernando 46), Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Silva (Jesus Navas 64), Sterling (Zabaleta 90), Aguero. Subs not used: Caballero, Maffeo, Barker, Evans. Booked: Otamendi.
Referee: Clement Turpin (France).