FC Olympique Lyonnais, last night unearthed, once again a different dynamic in the Manchester City machine. Just as they had at the Etihad on matchday one, they demonstrated a type of hunger not emulated in the Premier League, in how to deal with the City slickers.
Guardiola was shorn of De Bruyne, de Jesus, Bernardo, Mendy and Gundogan for this event and for some reason played Sterling in Bernardo’s role and Mahrez, perhaps better suited to that role out wide. It didn’t work. The rest of City’s starting team was predictable.
The hosts are no mugs, no also-rans of the type that align themselves in the Stretford Division. Having won at the Etihad and renowned for not being over-generous on their own pelouse, they took this match to City, at times denying the Blues the ball. They didn’t collapse against the press and forced City to dig much deeper than they have had to in recent times, other than, perhaps against Liverpool. They also deployed safeguards around Silva to cut off his lines of communication and supply.
In the first half, there were chances at both ends. Cornet and Depay failed for Lyon and Mahrez, Sane and Aguero were also off-key for City. How we got to halftime at 0-0 remains a mystery. But the second half was to remedy that.
First off, City set out early in the second half to get the job done. News coming in from Germany had Hoffenheim and Shakhtar at 2-2, so a similar result here would effectively put both teams through, but Lyon had other ideas.
Ndombele and Marcelo were involved in the build, finding Depay who spotted Cornet in acres of space allocated by Zinchenko. The Ivorian blew his own trumpet as he cut inside to curl a tasty shot around Ederson to open the scoring. Would this take the stuffing out of City?
Well, no was the answer as the Blues pushed on in search of an equaliser. Seven minutes later Sterling’s free-kick was clipped on at the near post and Laporte, easily City’s best player on the light, headed home to level things up.
With things still standing at 2-2 in Germany, both teams could have been forgiven, maybe, for settling for a draw, but it is not in either sides’ DNA. Chances were scorned at both ends of the field in the ensuing 20 minutes until Depay, once again straightened up play sliding a neat pass down the side of Stones to Cornet. He side-stepped the oncoming Laporte who very nearly got there before slipping the ball through Ederson’s legs.
This left city staring at the same 1-2 scoreline they suffered at home, but there is a new-born element of steel about Manchester City nowadays, which leaves some commentators fearing they are even better than last season. Their desire to grab an equaliser saw them achieve it from an unexpected source.
The Blues can hardly be described as “dead ball” specialists, but having already scored from a free kick, it was almost incredible to find them equalise again, this time from Mahrez’ corner. The Algerian’s flag kick was right on the pennies as the diminutive Aguero outjumped the giants in the Lyon defence to steer a header beyond Lopes and inside the far post. Tonight was his 50th Champions League appearance. What a way to celebrate.
With the news that Shakhtar had sneaked a late winner, it is still “game on” in Group F. City still need a point to secure first place. If they lose against Hoffenheim and Lyon win, Lyon top the Group on the “head-to-head”. Shakhtar could still surprise Lyon if they beat them on matchday six.
As I said earlier Aymeric Laporte was easily City’s best player tonight and looks a bargain at £57m. We do really have to trust Pep and the club when people are trying to hold them to ransom. Letting Fred and Sanchez go to Sold Trafford was correct, same with Jorginho at Chelsea. He seems to have disturbed Kante’s progression.
The Blues will take a draw in a difficult Champions League match and move on to a home match against Bournemouth at the weekend.