Date: 8th December 2011 at 9:51am
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As expected, City went with a “best available” line-up for their final Group Stage match against one of the world`s leading Clubs, Bayern Munich, last night at the Etihad Arena. The Bayern line-up raised a few Bavarian eyebrows on East Level 3, but a team that includes Ivica Olic can hardly be seen as a weak one.
When you take into account the ability of a team to play the “Bayern Way” no matter which eleven men populate their shirts, the stage was set for an enthralling encounter in front of another capacity crowd.
It was disappointing that a section of City fans saw fit to “boo” Jerome Boateng, who , although a short term servant for City, has no reason to deserve it. But it was onwards and upwards for the team with City setting off in total control, bossing possession for more or less the entire match.
Bayern`s ambitions looked a little limited as the collected men behind the ball seeking to escape on the break in a fashion that has cost City their involvement in the Champions League. And indeed, as you would expect, chances fell their way with Olic bringing an excellent save from Hart and Alaba contriving to miscue twice in the same move. Aguero also had a golden chance, slightly off cue.
Ahead of that David Silva`s free kick was nudged in by Lescott, but the celebration was cut short as he was deemed to have impeded a rather shaky looking goaltender in Butt. At this City were totally in control of the ball, although Olic was the outlet in Ribery`s role and did look dangerous.
When you bear in mind that his last two visits to Manchester and just outside, not only did he set up Hamburg`s survival in the old UEFA Cup, but he single handedly put Stretford to the Excalibur eliminating them from the Champions League two seasons ago, it was a great credit to Stefan Savic, maligned for his efforts recently against QPR, that he hardly gave him a sniff, even though he was out of position at right back. This is how you do it Mr Boateng.
Olic was however presented with a yellow card for seeking retribution, as indeed on fifteen minutes was Gustavo, a hero of the match at the Allianz Arena, for cutting down Silva.
The magician was in orchestral mood last night as he pulled all the right strings, creating fear every time he went near the ball. His free kick from the Gustavo foul generated similar panic as Bayern were happy to concede a throw-in. Savic`s throw to Barry and an exquisite pass flicked on by Dzeko to Silva who first touch set him up to drive the ball past Butt into the corner of the net after 36 minutes.
City continued to control the game and Aguero was unfortunate to see a well-worked effort beat Butt but find Boateng hovering on the line to keep it out.
If the first half was game and set to City, with six minutes of the restart it was also match. Yaya started the move into Aguero on to Dzeko and finally back to Yaya whose runaround left him clear in the box for him to finish in typical fashion.
Although after that City ceded the ball a little more, they were very much in control for all of the match. Bayern didn`t appear to be the threat we and they expected, but their fans kept going for the remainder of the match.
For once there were no scares at Joe Hart`s end of the pitch and excellent midfield work from all of Barry, Nasri, Yaya and of course Silva kept the pressure on Bayern and kept them contained more or less wherever City wanted them. Olic, a favourite of mine, as always tried his best but in the absence of much first team football since his injury nightmare faded as the game progressed and with Gomez on the bench with Ribery and Robben still at home the major threat was not present and for once Joe Hart went home with a creditable clean sheet against an albeit less than full strength Bayern.
It was impossible to see weaknesses in City last night. Hart was unemployed for most of the night. Kompany, Lescott and Clichy were commanding and Savic looked excellent at this lever even playing out of position at right back.
In midfield we kept the ball, pushed and probed and were not prepared to be muscled out of it by the Bavarians. Up top Dzeko put in a better effort than he did at the Allianz and Aguero was mobile, quick and dangerous.
Bayern simply looked like a team who had already qualified and were keen to not sustain injury and get out of Manchester unscathed. They were however very much scathed by an excellent City performance and a team who went about their business professionally even as the news filtered through from Spain that Napoli were 2-0 to the good. Contento at right back looked very incontento finding himself up against the magician for most of the night and any of his attacking intent cut out by Savic.
Man of the match was a difficult call as any one of the midfielders could have got the call. Some pundits gave us Nasri, who had one of his best matches for City and seems to have at last stepped on the gas. He moved fluidly along the line working well in tandem with Aguero who tirelessly worked the channels giving options all the time. It was a hard call between Nasri and Silva but Samir probably just edged it despite Silva`s tremendous goal.
Cynics might point to the understrength visitors going through the motions, but make no mistake, this was top quality performance from City and there is no doubt that the Champions League will be a poorer competition with their exit. But City will be back in this competition and a much stronger outfit for it, next season.
Bayern`s fans were fantastic visitors. They have great humour and tremendous passion for their team. We even heard them singing “Hark now here City sing, United ran away” in English. I`m not convinced that the Level Three scenario worked as it did not generate the atmosphere we had hoped for, I think it would have been better with the visitors in their usual place in the South Stand.
Next up is Chelsea and on this showing I think City is capable of getting a win at Stamford Bridge to keep them five point ahead at the top. United also surrendered their Champions League passport last night, losing in Basel. In their terms that amounts to humiliation, especially as they have ridiculed the idea of City playing in the Europa League. Now it`s their turn and it is a distraction they won`t enjoy with their dearth of quality playing staff. Still half a dozen one-nil wins and who knows, they might win it?. Assuming of course they don`t draw City!!


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