Bayern Munich vs. Manchester City: 6 Things We Learned in Champions League Clash
Manchester City must live with half a loaf after their rousing 3-2 comeback victory at the Allianz Arena over defending Champions League trophy winners Bayern Munich.
Half a loaf, because while the win proved that even City's second unit has enough quality to push Bayern, City's bid to fully overtake Bayern and win Group D fell one goal short, per Chris Wheeler of the Daily Mail.
Spotting Bayern a 2-0 lead after 12 minutes could not possibly have been in City boss Manuel Pellegrini's match plans. But that is exactly what his charges did.
A funny thing happened on the way to a second consecutive Bayern blowout of City, though. Whether they got complacent, bored or just too conservative, Bayern did not score again and were thrice breached by City's backup singers.
Unfortunately for City, there was no fourth goal to be found.
Still, there are compelling takeaways from Bayern Munich 2-3 Manchester City.
Manuel Pellegrini Did Not Practice to Deceive About His XI
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini was not as coy as he normally is about his XI when asked who would play against Bayern Munich.
"The game against Arsenal next weekend is more important than the game against Bayern Munich. From the moment we qualified for the next round, the Premier League became more important than Champions League," Pellegrini allowed per the report of Pete O'Rourke of Sky Sports.
You did not need to be a Langley-trained code breaker to know what that meant. City were not going to field their strongest XI in a match that, for all probable purposes, was a glorified exhibition.
Having lost 3-1 at the Etihad to Bayern, City needed to win at the Allianz Arena by two goals or more to overtake Bayern for the Group D win. That would be a tall order for City's best XI.
So Pellegrini kept to his word and started squad players like Micah Richards, James Milner and Javi Garcia. He also eschewed his normal practice of playing two strikers; Edin Dzeko was often alone at the business end of a formation that featured five midfielders.
Noticeably absent were Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and Alvaro Negredo. Yaya Toure was suspended and Samir Nasri did not even dress.
It was a ragtag XI then, but little did anyone know what exactly they were capable of.
James Milner Made the Best Case of City's Featured Reserves for a Bigger Role
Manchester City's XI against Bayern Munich contained numerous players who want more playing time.
Joleon Lescott and Micah Richards have repeatedly complained about lack of opportunity at City. That former City boss Roberto Mancini and current City gaffer Manuel Pellegrini successively buried them on the bench seems to be lost on them both.
Richards did not exactly seize his chance against Bayern. Pellegrini could not have been pleased with needing to replace an injured Richards with Pablo Zabaleta in the 16th minute when City were already down 2-0. For that matter, Lescott had not exactly covered himself in glory to that point, either.
Ultimately, it was another forgotten man who yanked City's fat out of the conflagration.
James Milner has seen City spend absurd sums on Javi Garcia, Samir Nasri, Fernandinho and Jesus Navas in the past few years. Yaya Toure received a huge contract extension in that same time. Milner has suffered for City's profligate midfield spending by spending a lot of time on the bench.
Against Bayern, though, Milner drew the penalty from Dante that created Aleksandar Kolarov's equalizer from the penalty spot. Then Milner scored the match winner in the 63rd minute.
Lescott, Richards and other deposed starters like Joe Hart and Edin Dzeko could learn a lot from Milner's example.
You want to start? You want to play more? Excel when your name is called.
Joe Hart's Rehabilitation to No. 1 Keeper Status Is Still a Work in Progress
After losing his starting spot to Costel Pantilimon, Manchester City keeper Joe Hart needs to be grateful for any opportunity to play.
You would have to forgive Hart though, for maybe not feeling too blessed with his assignment in this encounter with Bayern Munich.
Facing Bayern at the Allianz Arena would be plenty for any keeper to handle with his normal back four and his side's best strikers trying to keep the ball up the pitch and to put the ball in Bayern's goal.
Instead, Hart had a defensive line of four that casual fans would not recognize. No Vincent Kompany. No Matija Nastasic (who is injured). No Gael Clichy or Pablo Zabaleta (until Micah Richards limped off, of course).
Leaving Edin Dzeko without a partner at striker is at best negligence and at worst intentional sabotage.
The mind reels at what Hart's thought process was when Bayern took a 2-0 lead after 12 minutes. There (most likely) went any chance Hart had to convince Pellegrini that he was back in form.
Give Hart credit, though. City gave up a mind-boggling 14 corner kicks and earned none of their own. Hart faced 13 shots (6 on target) and dealt with Bayern keeping the ball 60 percent of the time.
Hart made enough stops and dealt with enough traffic in front of him to keep his side in the match. He earned this victory.
But it is still most likely his last Champions League appearance for City in this tournament.
Bayern Munich Pulled a Milton Berle
Bayern Munich took the pitch against Manchester City in the Champions League Group D finale for both teams in a very powerful position.
Having won 3-1 at the Etihad, Bayern would win the group with another victory over City, a draw or even a one-goal loss.
Under such circumstances, many (most?) sides would take a very conservative approach and try to keep all the action in the middle of the pitch.
Bayern, of course, are not like most sides.
Bayern jumped City right out of the box, scoring first in the fifth minute and again in the 12th minute. For the first 25 minutes, Bayern looked like they might put a vicious beating on the Citizens.
From that point on though, City created the best chances and the final three goals of the match.
One too few, as it turned out.
Bayern, then, pulled a Milton Berle.
They showed City just enough to secure the group. And nothing more.
There Exists the Possibility That Manuel Pellegrini Did Not Truly Know the Score
Football is a funny old game, but this detail is strange even for a club with a history as checkered as Manchester City's.
As reported by talkSPORT, "Manchester City overcame a two-goal deficit to beat Bayern Munich 3-2 in their final game of the Champions League group stage, but manager Manuel Pellegrini did not appear to realize they needed just one more goal to qualify as group winners."
Difficult as it is to believe, the evidence is pretty compelling that Pellegrini did not know he was one goal short of winning Group D. Or, just as likely, that he did not really care.
James Milner's strike in the 63rd minute put City up 3-2. A 4-2 win would have won City the group.
Here were Pellegrini's substitutions after City pulled ahead: Alvaro Negredo for David Silva (75th minute) and Jack Rodwell for Edin Dzeko (88th minute).
Negredo for Silva can be argued as an aggressive play, putting another striker on in place of a midfielder. But if you are desperate for a goal, the midfielder you take off there is Javi Garcia or Jesus Navas, not Silva (who scored City's first goal).
The 88th minute substitution of Dzeko for Rodwell is a double blunder. Not only did Pellegrini leave Sergio Aguero seated, he wasted more precious time at the end of the match. If Aguero was not going to come on, Dzeko should have remained.
Asked why Aguero did not play, Pellegrini reportedly answered "I was tempted if we scored the fourth goal."
The Chilean picked an inopportune time for a senior moment.
The Truth Always Lies in the Middle
Measured as ever, the English press reacted to Manchester City's 3-2 victory over Bayern Munich with either bored insouciance or adrenaline-charged bombast.
Citing the fact that City won the match but lost Group D anyway, Simon Burnton of The Guardian quipped "City have beaten Bayern in their own back yard! And it didn't really mean anything!"
Conversely, Chris Wheeler's match report for the Daily Mail breathlessly described City's bold announcement that the Champions League knockout qualifiers, nay, the world of football had best watch out for the Sky Blues.
"Remember the date and remember the score because this was the night Manchester City came of age in Europe. Remember there was no Yaya Toure, no Sergio Aguero and no Vincent Kompany," exhorted Wheeler.
"Imagine what they could have done if Manuel Pellegrini had put out the first team...City will fear no one after this," he continued.
Overheated rhetoric like that calls for a cup of warm milk and a cozy pair of slippers as an antidote.
As ever, the truth lies in the middle.
This was not an insignificant achievement for City, a club with sincere Champions League aspirations.
But nor was it a win for the history books. City played their junior varsity, for crying out loud. One wonders if they would have won the match if they had really, really tried their best.
If City lose to Arsenal this coming Saturday, few will remember or care about Bayern Munich 2-3 Manchester City.