Manchester City’s Champions League hopes have been left hanging by a thread after CSKA Moscow scored a late penalty to salvage a 2-2 draw in the Russian capital. The Premier League champions had looked in total control after Sergio Aguero and James Milner put them 2-0 up by halftime. But a listless second-half display proved hugely costly to allow halftime substitute Seydou Doumbia to slot in from close range and then win a controversial penalty in the final five minutes. After Aleksandar Kolarov was punished for seemingly little contact and Doumbia went down spectacularly, Bebras Natcho beat Joe Hart from the penalty spot to deal a huge blow to City’s ambitions of making it through to the last 16.
After defeat to Bayern Munich and only drawing at home to Russia, taking six points from back-to-back matches with CSKA, just as they accomplished last season, was paramount to City avoiding a group stage exit for the third time in four seasons. But they will need a dramatic improvement on their European performances in the final three matches, with wins against Roma and Bayern Munich now potentially required.
A match that Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini described as a must-win began well enough for his side. CSKA, without a point from their opening two matches, had a couple of speculative efforts from distance in the early going, but other than the pace of Ahmed Musa looked to have little to offer going forward. And when City struck twice in 10 minutes there looked little way back.
The first came 29 minutes in when City Edin Dzeko beat an erroneous offside trap to get onto David Silva’s through ball and, instead of finishing himself, he laid a pass on for Aguero to apply a simple finish. Full of confidence after a four-goal haul against Tottenham on Saturday, Aguero had a role in City’s second, too. Pablo Zabaleta was fortunate to escape being found slightly offside in the buildup when he headed a deep cross back to his fellow Argentine. Play was allowed to go on and Aguero’s scuffed shot was followed up well by Milner to slide in and double City’s lead. The visitors’ advantage could have been more emphatic by halftime, but they were denied a penalty for a challenge from behind on Dzeko before Milner struck the outside of the post.
City, though, failed to build on their first-half platform and once again showed some European naivety to allow CSKA a route back into the contest. Doumbia’s introduction was key and it was no surprise that it was he who halved the hosts’ deficit. Eliaquim Mangala was caught out by the pace of Musa and the Nigerian’s cross was turned home in the middle after Doumbia got ahead of Zabaleta.
In front of what was supposed to be an empty Arena Khimki, but instead housed increasingly vociferous and audible support from corporate invitees, City continued to wilt. The penalty decision for CSKA was certainly fortunate but Kolarov was unquestionably naïve in giving Doumbia a chance to hit the deck in the penalty area so late in the game. With less than four minutes remaining, Natcho converted and City were unable to found what would have been a vital late response.