On a night when Manchester City had the chance to make a long-awaited statement of their arrival among Europe’s elite, Champions League holders Bayern Munich taught them a lesson in what it takes to prosper at this rarified level.
Having been found out under Roberto Mancini, the arrival of a man with plenty of European success in Manuel Pellegrini was supposed to herald a new era. It may yet do so, but on Wednesday Bayern carved City apart for a 3-1 win. There were errors on each goal, with Joe Hart culpable of letting near-post efforts from Franck Ribery, after just seven minutes, and Arjen Robben, just prior to the hour mark, squeeze into the net. Three minutes before Robben’s effort Thomas Muller finished from close range as the visitors’ dominance became reflected on the score sheet.
A late goal by substitute Alvaro Negredo and a sending off for Jerome Boateng which led to a free-kick against the bar from David Silva raised excitement levels but a fight back against all the odds was cut short. The hosts could have no complaints.
It was more than just the defensive mistakes that cost City; they were outplayed on every level. Tactically Guardiola outfought a coach that he has never lost to during their time together in Spain. Bayern had at least an extra man in midfield in all times with Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger being joined at times by the roaming front man Muller and inverted winger Ribery. City’s persistence until too late with two strikers that were relegated to a role of spectators for the majority of their time on the pitch was at best naïve.
While Bayern are more prepared and capable of holding the ball for longer spells under Guardiola, he has continued to build on the relentless pressing introduced last season and which so despaired City. Helped by a simpler Champions League group than previous seasons, City should still progress, but there is much work to be done if they are to fulfill Guardiola’s prophecy of being a threat in the latter stages.
City were particularly vulnerable down their right side, where Pellegrini made the surprise decision to include Micah Richards for only his second appearance of the season ahead of the dependable Pablo Zabaleta. It was from that flank where the opening goal emerged. Ribery was allowed to receive a long cross-field pass in space, with Richards dropping off and Jesus Navas failing to make a challenge, before stepping inside and striking low and powerfully toward the near post where Hart dived and got his hand to the ball but could not prevent it from finding the net. For England’s number one, it was the latest in what is now a long line of mistakes that may have some wondering whether they still merely represent a dip in form, or something altogether more fundamental.
The goal played right into Bayern’s hands, allowing them to control and defend through possession. City could barely string two passes together in the face of Bayern’s intense pressing let alone manage an attack. Sergio Aguero fired wide from the only half chance, while Navas’ final ball was found wanting on the few occasions where City got upfield. At the other end Robben failed to find Muller at the back post for a simple tap in.
Despite the obvious deficiencies in midfield, Pellegrini failed to change things at the break, although Aguero coming slightly deeper did initially limit the space afforded to Lahm. Yet, just before the hour mark, Bayern picked off their opponents twice in three minutes to effectively put the result beyond doubt.
Gael Clichy, also brought back into the side, was this time at fault when he switched off from Dante’s long ball forward from half-way. Muller ran in behind the defense to control the pass, take it simply past Hart and side-foot the ball into the unguarded net. More misery for City was imminent. Fernandinho succumbed to Bayern’s pressing to concede possession and Robben was set upon Matija Nastasic. The young defender looked befuddled as Robben took him inside then out before the famously one-footed winger drilled a shot with his weaker right foot that Hart again allowed to beat him at his near post. The score could have been more emphatic, with Muller striking against a post after Hart had made an initial save.
Not coincidentally after Silva came on to finally provide an extra man in midfield, while Bayern also began resting some of their key personnel, City gained some long-awaited momentum in the final 10 minutes. Negredo made a good case for why he should have started ahead of the anonymous Edin Dzeko with a clever turn and fine finish from the edge of the box.
Former City defender Boateng, partially at fault for the goal, perhaps made the decision to sacrifice himself when he cut down Yaya Toure as the midfielder bore down on goal. Had Silva’s resulting free-kick been a couple of inches lower it might have provided a thrilling finale, but in truth the score line had already got closer than Bayern’s domination had warranted.