Manchester City qualify for last 16 but must settle for second place

A scrappy game in Moenchengladbach saw both sides ending with red cards

Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling is challenged by Moenchengladbach’s Oscar Wendt during their Champions League clash. Photo: Martin Meissner/AP

Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling is challenged by Moenchengladbach’s Oscar Wendt during their Champions League clash. Photo: Martin Meissner/AP

 

Borussia Moenchengladbach 1 Manchester City 1

Manchester City are through to the Champions League last 16 with a match to spare but Pep Guardiola had to use four separate defensive units before his side earned the draw they needed.

City also had Fernandinho sent off needlessly and displayed a lack of ruthlessness that will concern their manager, particularly as he has previously identified it as a weakness.

Still, it is a fine achievement to progress with a round of games left and City now concentrate on the Premier League and put the European Cup in the “pocket” until spring as Guardiola described it before the match.

From the XI that beat Crystal Palace 2-1 at the weekend out went Yaya Touré, Nolito, Bacary Sagna and the unfortunate Vincent Kompany, due to a 35th injury of his City career. This meant David Silva, Fernandinho and Ilkay Gündogan slotted into the engine room and John Stones came into the defence, with Guardiola stating this would be a “fluid” back four or three.

The equation for City was simple: beat Germany’s 13th-placed side and they would be through to February’s knockout stage. Even a draw would suffice if Barcelona were to equal the result, at worst, at Celtic.

Guardiola, of course, would have had instructed his men to hunt for the win and after City fashioned some tippy-toe stuff following kick-off Mönchengladbach signalled they, too, would attack by slicing through the visitors with ease; a pattern that continued until the interval.

Raffael, the striker in André Schubert’s 4-2-3-1, dropped deep to take the ball, then slid it into Fabian Johnson whose run from left to right confused City. His shot was weak, though, and Claudio Bravo collected the ball.

City’s main ploy at that stage involved Fernandinho dropping into defence to flip a pass over the top and into the run of Jesús Navas along the right wing. Two or three times the move worked, the Spaniard’s pace posing awkward questions of the home left-back, Oscar Wendt. Each time Mönchengladbach roved forward City creaked, though. Stones was embarrassed by a Nico Elvedi nutmeg, then moments later Lars Stindl brought a high ball down and sold a dummy that similarly deceived the hapless Aleksandar Kolarov.

When Stindl tore a hole in City’s rearguard along the left Stones was lacking again. The ball came to Raffael and he rifled it past Bravo to put the hosts ahead.

Guardiola’s men rocked. From the next attack Navas headed behind for a corner and the ball eventually arrived at Tobias Strobl’s feet before his shot was blocked.

Mönchengladbach’s strike meant City had failed to retain a clean sheet in the last 10 Champions League away games and it moved a frantic Guardiola to wave Navas into the right-back berth as his side took up a four-man shape at the back.

Some respite and some hope finally arrived when a Kevin De Bruyne corner went to Gündogan and he blazed at Yann Sommer. The goalkeeper’s save on 34 minutes was his first of the contest.

Two more City corners ensued but yielded nothing and the threat fizzled out. Instead Schubert’s outfit waltzed upfield and first Elvedi took aim at Bravo, then the Chilean’s throw out went straight to Wendt. He danced through a slumbering City defence and fired the ball at Bravo who was relieved to make amends for his howler.

Relief may have been City’s prevailing emotion on reaching the break only a goal behind until they stole an equaliser right on half-time: De Bruyne fed Silva and from close range the Spaniard gave Sommer no chance.

City’s slipshod first half gave Mönchengladbach hope they could beat them and keep their own qualification prospects alive. An illustration of City’s disarray came in their switch to a third different defensive lineup at the start of the second period. This one had Nicolás Otamendi at right-back, Fernandinho partnering Stones in the middle, and Kolarov on the left.

City caught a break when Stindl was adjudged to have body-checked Otamendi. For the second time the home captain was shown a yellow card, after earlier fouling De Bruyne, and so Mönchengladbach were reduced to 10 men. But Fernandinho was about to move his manager to anger by impeding Raffael. The foul was committed inside the Mönchengladbach half and there appeared little cause for it, but out came another second yellow card and the match became 10 against 10.

Guardiola’s response was to take off Raheem Sterling for Sagna, who became City’s third right-back in the fourth different defence. Stones went left and Otamendi and Kolarov became the centre-halves. From here the tie petered out. Schubert wanted Europa League football in the new year and his charges played the last minutes for the point that ensured that. By February City should have vastly improved. Do not rule them out going deep into this competition.

(Guardian service)

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