Manchester City brought an outstandingly satisfying away win home from the Veltins Arena last night when they beat FC Schalke 04 3-2. And this from a 2-1 deficit and being reduced to 10 men following the dismissal of Otamendi for a nonsensical 2nd yellow card.
The villain of the piece was however not a footballer but the VAR system of giving decisions remotely. City were cruising, leading 1-0 and creating enough chances to make the second leg almost unnecessary when in their first attack, the Germans saw a shot deflect for a corner, which was indicated by the referee. There was a clamour by Schalke players who considered Otamendi had used his arm to deflect the ball away from goal and VAR was implemented. Then the fun began.
It took close on 4 minutes for the decision to be overturned and a penalty kick awarded. During this period players hounded the referee and he had to call in the captains to try to prevent this. Furthermore, the technology that allows the on-field referee to review what happened failed and he had to rely on the remote referee who said it was a penalty and that Otamendi should be yellow-carded. Bentaleb took the penalty and equalised.
Minutes later, City conceded a free kick and as the inswinger came in, causing no real problem for Ederson, Fernandinho, used as an emergency centre back tonight, grabbed hold of Salif Sane, who looked offside when the kick came in, and the referee pointed this time to the spot. No review there.
Bentaleb, once again, did the needful and Schalke were looking far from whipping boys.
The Germans then sat back in typical German fashion, defending deep and preventing City from weaving their pretty patterns. Guardiola was fuming as the Blues couldn’t make any headway.
It was pretty much the same after the break. True the Blues tried to attack with more purpose but the Schalke defence, led well by Nastasic, once of the City shores.
With time running out and a trickier return leg than expected on the horizon, Pep finally sent on Sane for the last 15 minutes against his former Club, replacing Aguero who had scored City’s first goal in typical poacher fashion.
Otamendi by now was in the showers having been given a second yellow card for a stupid foul on the half-way line which sees him eliminated from the second leg. More importantly though is that Fernandinho will also miss the home leg after also receiving a yellow card.
City were granted a free kick from looked like a safe position a few yards outside the box and slightly off-centre. De Bruyne had seen two poor efforts on free kicks earlier so it was City’s own German who stepped up to the plate. His amazing strike swerved two ways, confused Farhmann and flew into the net.
With Sane on, Sterling, who had endured an unfruitful night on the left caught in the triumvirate of Caligiuri, Bruma and McKennie, was moved across to the right. De Bruyne was withdrawn in favour of Zinchenko and Sterling posted out on the right.
Enter Ederson. Often an overlooked part of City’s prowess is Ederson’s spot-on long ball. As the clocked ticked on to the 90-minute mark, the Brazilian netminder hit a 70-yard pass into the line of Sterling, who, cool as you like, slid home the winner past a startled Farhmann to send the 300 travelling City supporters into raptures.
People love to try to write off Manchester City and Martin Keown was no exception, but since the heady days of 2012 the key feature the Blues have learned is that you fight to the end. They did this tonight and got out jail free. And it was the SS in the shape and Sane and Sterling that did it.
We now prepare to go to Wembley on Sunday for the Carabao Cup Final against Chelsea, their manager seemingly under fire following some poor results. I’m sure Guardiola will not allow his team to take their foot off the gas. The maligned competition for me is key to a Club’s season because you win it in February and it propels you for the remaining three months. Teams who throw away this chance to win a trophy, in my opinion, get what they deserve…and it is usually nothing.