Mario Balotelli Gives Manchester City a Group of Death Lifeline Against Dortmund
With a minute to go and Borussia Dortmund convincing owners of a 1-0 lead, Manchester City's condition was 'critical' in the Champions League group of death.
Roberto Mancini's team lost at Real Madrid on Group D's opening night. A second reverse would have left the Premier League champions six points adrift of their German and Spanish equivalents, and faced with the likely prospect of going to Dortmund's beer-soaked cauldron on the final day needing a victory.
On the evidence of the Germans' vibrant and at times electrifying performance at the Etihad, getting a draw will be hard enough from that one.
So, for City's sake, thank goodness Neven Subotic's outstretched arm met Sergio Aguero's hopeful cross. And thank goodness the referee deemed it enough a crime to warrant awarding the Blues a penalty—and with it a lifeline for their hopes of reaching the knockout stages.
It was substitute Mario Balotelli who took it—dismissing Aguero's wishes to claim his moment—stroking the ball nonchalantly into the bottom corner to bring City level.
It was more than City deserved.
The possession stats will tell you Mancini's men had 64 percent of the game and played 641 passes to Dortmund's 348. But if ever there was a case for numbers being misleading, this was it—and wildly so.
City sat deep and narrow in midfield, and Dortmund let them play. Passes racked up, but the majority were neutral and City's attacking threat was not even close to that mustered by the visitors—swarming hungrily forward as befitted their yellow and black stripes.
The Germans ended the night averaging a shot for every 16 passes (22 shots in total). City averaged 53 passes per shot for just 12 attempts on goal. Possession was not even close to nine-tenths of the law on a rain-soaked night at the Etihad.
It is not an exaggeration to say Dortmund would have led 3-0 at halftime but for the brilliance of Joe Hart, who twice diverted goal-bound shots onto the woodwork and put in a truly world-class performance.
Much had been expected from striker Robert Lewandowski, but Dortmund's inspiration came mostly from the midfield trio of Mario Goetze, Jacob Blaszcykowski and Marco Reus, whose fluid movement and dynamic running undid City's defense time and again.
Fittingly, it was the in-form Reus who got the goal. Jack Rodwell's misplaced pass invited the youngster forward and, having sped away from Matjia Nastasic, he flashed a shot past Hart and put Dortmund ahead.
City were reeling. Mancini had switched to a back three for the second half, but he was seen on the touchline signalling a return to 4-2-3-1. His team are still without a clean sheet this season and their cause won't be helped by the injury suffered to Javi Garcia in this match.
Three fine chances followed for Dortmund to double their lead. Twice Hart's heroics denied them, and once Lewandowski shot wide when he should have scored. City survived and with the weight of firepower they had on the pitch there was always hope they could snatch a point.
When the chance arrived late on, Balotelli took it with a confidence and flair that was largely missing from his team's performance.
This was a great escape for City. And if they go on to progress to the knockout stages, Mancini will have Hart to thank for a virtuoso performance that has kept them alive in the group of death.
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