Date: 4th October 2012 at 7:48am
Written by:

What an amazing Champions League match it was that unfolded at the Etihad tonight.

City fielded probably what Mancini considers to be his best available eleven Tevez apart, but City were tested in every department by an effervescent Borussia Dortmund team intent on taking the game to City, pressing and closing off space and forcing an untold number of errors in City`s passing game.

The first half could have ended 3-3 as Aguero spurned chances and Dzeko found himself running offside too often. Silva was at least getting back to his probing best with neat work playing in Aguero or Nasri at every opportunity. That certainly augurs well for the Premier League matches to come ahead of the next sortie into the Champions League.

Indeed Nasri could have troubled the scorers before many of the 43000, near capacity crowd for this fixture had taken their seats. From then on the first half was a catalogue of chances and near misses at both ends of the field.

Goetze hit the post and forced an excellent save from Hart and Aguero, Zabaleta and Silva all let Dortmund off or generated saves from Weidenfeller.

Dzeko was preferred to Tevez probably for the panache with which he used to destroy German defences two seasons ago, but once again he spoiled his night by getting caught offside too often and therefore giving the ball away to the opposition.

Meanwhile Dortmund were showing the value once again of being reasonably regular visitors to the Champions League with Lewandowski causing problems without manifesting them and Blaszcyzkowski causing problems on the left side of the Dortmund attack, no doubt assisted by Zabaleta`s penchant for joining in midfield to try to free up Nasri or Silva.

Once again Yaya looked a bit laboured and subdued and spent much of the first hour deep alongside Garcia until he took an early night clutching his thigh. Rodwell replaced him.

Quite how this match got to half time at 0-0 will be a Champions League mystery for years to come, but it did teach us that Joe Hart is very keen to get amongst the clean sheets. His performance tonight was simply masterful with a torrent of first class saves.

VK found himself cautioned yet again in this tournament and still doesn`t look at his best yet this season. Mr Nasty looked reasonably accomplished and hopefully will be a better bet than Savic.

In amongst all this Goetze and Gundonga both went close as the stats piled up in favour of the German Champions, leaving the City faithful feeling that once again the experience of the Champions League was counting against them.

And indeed just after the hour it was. Rodwell, new to this level of football once again played a pass that was short and didn`t find its target. Dortmund were onto it in a flash and Reus hammered the past Hart giving him no chance. At this level you cannot be lazy and that pass had a look of laziness about it. If you are lazy you get punished as did City here, leaving Hart to bemoan his defenders.

A long end to the night was in prospect as Dortmund sought not to defend their lead but to add to it forcing an array of fantastic saves by England`s No.1. Hart kept City in this match and probably in the competition with exceptional goal tending.

Further forward City simply couldn`t get into their stride. Gone was any fluency of passing with plan B looking like Wimbledon as Yaya and Kompany hit long balls looking for Dzeko. Yaya was still sitting deep and Silva worked hard without success.

A superb combination from Borussia saw the man with the unpronounceable name get open but he was thwarted as Hart stood tall to prevent City looking at the exit trap door.

Hart`s brilliance was being challenged now almost by the minute as the ball kept coming back. Was it Balotelli time? Or maybe Tevez? Time was ticking away and it didn`t look as though City had much else to offer. Dortmund continued to move upfield quickly and to discomfort City at every opportunity and once City got the ball they didn`t seem to be able to keep it.

Dortmund too showed the usual German darker side as they took refuge on the floor each time a City player went anywhere near them. Indeed on one such occasion the ref waved play on as the German rolled around in pure agony to the extent that their players went mad when Zabaleta refused to put the ball out of play.
Without the ball you cannot score and City were certainly being starved of it as they tried to look for an equaliser . Mancini`s final throw of the dice was to introduce Balotelli with ten to go leaving Tevez cutting a glum figure in the dugout. Still the ref gave Dortmund easy free kicks but not so for Zaba when he was felled, a decision which left Yaya going mad with the ref and affording himself a yellow card.

And then with two minutes left some justice at last. Aguero`s shot hit the arm of Dortmund defender, Subotic as he turned his back and amazingly the ref after some deliberation pointed to the spot.

German gamesmanship stepped up two notches as they debated it with the ref and the belligerent Weidenfeller tried to word Balotelli.

But who looked the most nervous? The master penalty king Mario nonchalantly strolled up and sent the keeper all over the place before calmly slotting it exactly where the keeper wasn`t. As he walked up to retrieve the ball you could see him telling the keeper to be silent.

This wasn`t the end of City`s nervousness for tonight though as Hart made two brilliant saves in stoppage time to keep City`s ambitions alive. In addition two German efforts peppered the away fans in block 115 as they realised that the only way to beat Hart tonight was to be by finding the corners of the goal.

Another tough game for City at this level and they are still struggling to come to terms with this competition. Dortmund kept the pressure up for 94 minutes and outweighed City with almost every stat. But maybe justice was done in the end as Dortmund undid their good work by time wasting when their good football was producing a winning formula. There is a gulf of class between playing the likes of Fulham and Sunderland and matching up to the continent`s elite and this is what City are finding tough. But on the basis that they should have won in Madrid and rescued this match from the jaws of defeat, maybe City are improving and just maybe they can rescue their progression from the group by doing to Ajax exactly what Dortmund did here.

I still think Yaya and Garcia are playing too much of the same game and neither seems to want to do the dirty work that Gareth Barry has turned into an art form. Equally when needed, City no longer have de Jong to call upon.

The back line looked breachable far too often even with Yaya sitting deep. Rodwell looks a bit lost at this level and Silva was again leading a one-man crusade in the creativity department.

Aguero looked very busy but didn`t get a stroke of luck until 88 minutes so the MoTM was left to the one man who hardly put a foot wrong and who enabled City to fight another now. Well done Joe Hart. That is precisely why you are the best keeper in England by miles and up there amongst the best in Europe and even the world. I suspect we won`t see a better goalkeeping performance over a single 90 minute match again this season.

all times East Manchester

Sa 06 Oct 12h45 Sunderland, The Etihad, PL
Sa 20 Oct 15h00 West Brom, The Hawthorns, PL
We 24 Oct 19h45 Ajax, Amsterdam Arena, CL
Sa 27 Oct 17h30 Swansea City, The Etihad, PL
Sa 03Nov 17h30 West Ham, Upton Park, PL
Tu 06 Nov 19h45 Ajax, The Etihad, CL
Su 11 Nov 13h30 Spurs, The Etihad, PL
Sa 17 Nov 15h00 Aston Villa, The Etihad, PL
We 21 Nov 19h45 Real Madrid, The Etihad, CL
Su 25 Nov 16h00 Chelsea, Stamford Bridge, PL
We 28 Nov 20h00 Wigan, DW Stadium, PL


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