Jérôme Boateng struck late for Bayern Munich to inflict a painful defeat on his former club Manchester City at the Allianz Arena. The teams had emerged with a share of the spoils from their four previous meetings in the last three seasons of the Champions League and looked set to do likewise on Wednesday, despite the hosts being on top for much of the contest. But in the 90th minute Boateng struck a superb half-volley from the top corner of the penalty area and, with the help of a deflection off the back of teammate Mario Gotze, beat Joe Hart and dealt an early blow to his former employer’s hopes of making a real mark on the Champions League this season.
Bayern were without a host of key players, including Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara, and weren’t at their fluid best, yet Pep Guardiola, who celebrated wildly when Boateng’s goal found the net, will feel it was a deserved win. Looking to bounce back from their chastening semifinal defeat to Real Madrid last season, Bayern overran City for large spells in midfield, helped by a particularly anonymous display form Yaya Toure, and missed clear chances through Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski. It was the introduction of another of their fitness concerns, Arjen Robben, late on that provided a spark to lead to Bayern’s decisive strike.
Manuel Pellegrini, suspended from the sidelines, had chosen to start with Sergio Aguero on the bench, likely with Sunday’s key Premier League encounter in mind. And, despite captain Vincent Kompany’s urging of his team to prove they belong at the top of the European game, City again fell short. There is now much work to do to even make it to the knockout phase, with group rivals Roma marking their return to the Champions League with a thumping victory over CSKA Moscow.
The manner of the defeat may have been cruel, but Manchester City could have been behind within just 40 seconds. Lewandowski flicked the ball in behind the Bayern defense, Müller ran clear and looked to go round Joe Hart. The World Cup winner stumbled on rather than going down after making contact with the City goalkeeper, but couldn’t regain his composure and sent a shot into the side netting.
Bayern had begun with Mehdi Benatia making his debut in a three-man backline and in the first half City posed a decent threat on the counter attack, with Edin Dzeko twice going close. But the better and more frequent chances continued to fall at the other end, with Hart having a busy and largely impressive night. After reaching out a hand to tip over Juan Bernat’s header, he had to be alert to block an effort from Götze that was deflected on its way to goal by the arm of Kompany. Again Bayern appealed for a penalty and again they were rebuked. The frustration did not end there for the hosts. As in the opening minute Hart was rounded nine minutes before halftime, this time by Lewandowski, and again the result was the same, with the former Borussia Dortmund marksman lacking his usual clinical touch.
By the time halftime came around, Guardiola had switched to four at the back, leaving Xabi Alonso, David Alaba and Philipp Lahm to start running rings around City in midfield. Fernandinho was having to work overdrive as Toure alongside him simply ambled around, making little contribution either defensively or going forward. The response of City assistant Ruben Cousillas, or if you’re being cynical the world passed to him by Pellegrini, was to bring James Milner on to supplement the midfield and push Toure further forward, rather than simply replacing the Ivorian.
The chances dried up at both ends, although Hart was relieved that Müller was offside when he spilled a Rafinha shot straight to the Bayern attacker. It continued to be a busy evening for the official. Minutes after coming on Robben went down in the box under the faintest of challenges by Fernandinho, but unlike against Mexico in the World Cup, had his appeals turned down. Far more questionable was the decision moments later not to award a penalty for a knee from behind on David Silva from Mehdi Benatia. City’s anguish was to deepen minutes later. The visitors failed to clear a deep cross from Lahm, which was kept alive by Claudio Pizarro and eventually fell to Boateng, who was given enough space to crack a fierce shot that and finally beat Hart.