André Silva and RB Leipzig put Manchester City to bed asleep

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Labyrinthine Covid Reminder System Is The Real Reason For The Delays


If Manchester City are beaten to a dead ball in the Champions League and no one is around to see it, has it really happened? It will certainly be the one crumb of solace for Pep Guardiola as he debriefs this silent mess, in which his half-interested side was opened up in series, Kyle Walker managed to get himself suspended for the last 16 and the only flicker of the experimentation was three unnecessary minutes given to Cole Palmer at the end.

Normally City are second to none when the stakes are low. How do you think they won all those League Cups? But here they seemed to be sucked into a perfect whirlwind of disinterest: a combination of the situation and the empty stadium and the freezing cold and the fact that Leipzig still needed a result to seal third place and qualify for the League. Europa. Few City players have stood out here. Zack Steffen was good on goal.

Riyad Mahrez scored a late consolation. But the center-halfs were mediocre, the midfielder oddly underfed and Kevin de Bruyne somewhat late, though he could still have snatched a point from a hoarse shot to death.

“In the first half we lacked rhythm, but the second half was much better,” said Guardiola. “One or two faults, they punished us. Overall we had an amazing group stage. We qualified with a game to play in a tough squad, so we’re more than happy. “

With City already assured of first place in the group, some churn and rotation was inevitable. João Cancelo, Bernardo Silva, Ederson and Rodri were all rested. And yet, the squad named by Guardiola were still disconcertingly strong, an eleven of established full internationals. De Bruyne returned to midfield, with Phil Foden and Mahrez on either side of Jack Grealish up front. The message to City’s impressive youth group was pretty clear. It’s still the Champions League. You earn that.

No freebies, and no fans either. The RB Arena has been closed to the public in light of the alarming increase in Covid cases in Germany, and although City established themselves as the kings of pandemic football last season, they were a bit asleep here. Leipzig may be at a crossroads right now, with coach Jesse Marsch sacked over the weekend and the club placing 11th in the Bundesliga, but here their movement was sharp and precise.

In the sublime Dominik Szoboszlai, as well as their fiery defensive resistance in the second half, there is plenty to lean on here.

After 23 minutes, they found a way. It was a scoreless kick from Peter Gulacsi, but City were slow on the second ball and in a flash Konrad Laimer had cleared Szoboszlai with a delicious cross pass. Szoboszlai has been described as Hungary’s most talented footballer since Ferenc Puskas, although the playmaker has yet to really set the Bundesliga on fire since his transfer in January. Here, however, his talent was in the spotlight: smart running, turning the pace, quick feet to take the ball around Steffen and finish in an empty net.

City started to string together a few moves as half-time went on, but they still looked fragile in the defensive transition. Emil Forsberg could have made it 2-0 a few seconds after the restart. André Silva should certainly seven minutes before half-time. Raheem Sterling replaced Foden at the break, with Grealish passing to the left and Ilkay Gündogan pushing up, but there was still little intensity to go with their usual possession and territory. With 20 minutes remaining, John Stones was recklessly pulled towards the ball, Forsberg cleared and Silva finished with men lining up to shoot.

It was probably then that Guardiola realized he probably should have spent his Tuesday night curled up with a box set. Even the sight of Mahrez heading towards Oleksandr Zinchenko’s cross at close range failed to get him to move. As the game leaked, the futility of the whole business seemed to befall City in one fell swoop. With eight minutes remaining, Walker was kicked out for a childish hack on Szoboszlai. “A red card, definitely,” Guardiola admitted afterwards.

Yet inexplicably, James McAtee and Romeo Lavia continued to shiver on the bench. Palmer was limited to one touch of the ball. And yet, despite everything, City might have managed to score a point thanks to Grealish and De Bruyne, both of whom saw extremely wide shots. It was a much needed reminder that even when they’re bad enough, City are never really that bad.

It was a nightmare night out, but you don’t think any of them will leave any real scars. After all, the hard work had already been done. Besides, if you’re going to implode in calamity, you might as well do so in a game like this.

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