Say what you want about Bayern Munich's focus in the second half. Say what you want about the fact that the European champions had little or nothing to play for.
Say whatever you like about the Germans simply having an "off night."
Did Bayern "switch off" against City?
The fact of the matter is, Manchester City walked into the Allianz Arena on Tuesday night and posted one of the most incredible come-from-behind wins seen in the UEFA Champions League. This Bayern outfit—the one that was so dominant against Werder Bremen on the weekend and seemed so perfect this season—were defeated by a City side also not at its strongest.
And what's more: They did it thanks to their own strength and resilience.
Bayern might have had an off night and gifted City some chances with errors rarely seen from the German champions, but it was the Citizens' constant pressure and self-belief that drew those errors. Yes, Bayern switched off, but Manuel Pellegrini's side still had to switch on—which it certainly did!
#MCFC became the first team in nearly 39 years to win a competitive match at Bayern München after trailing 2-0. (25 Jan 75 K. Offenbach)— Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaLive) December 10, 2013
Let's break down the film and examine a little closer just how the 2012 Premier League champions were able to end Bayern's phenomenal winning streak at home.
Early Lead a Mistake That City Should Have Seen Coming
Manchester City fans had every right to be frustrated with the simplicity of Bayern's first goal—if only for the fact they had seen the exact same goal scored before.
Muller scored a near-identical goal the first time they met.
With David Alaba occupying the ball at left-back, the key to note here is how wide both Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller are in comparison to their defenders.
Neither Aleksandar Kolarov nor Micah Richards are particularly wide at this point in time, and with City looking to employ a high line, that opens up a mountain of space in behind. Truth be told, even Mario Mandzukic has the option to make a run in behind the defense.
As the play winds on, it's then just a matter of finishing for Bayern.
Alaba's pass is brilliant—as we've come to expect from the defender—but Muller is too far clear of Kolarov for the defender to be able to do anything.
And much like he was in Manchester, Joe Hart was left stranded and helpless.
Bayern had exposed City with their width and had seemingly set the pattern for a similar process to continue throughout the match.
However, Pellegrini's men had other ideas.
Fernandinho/David Silva/Javi Garcia Bring City Back into the Game
It's worth pointing out before we go any further that both Pellegrini and Pep Guardiola made bold decisions in terms of their starting lineups on the night.
City were without Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo and Yaya Toure.
But what was important from Pellegrini was that he opted to play Javi Garcia—a man heavily criticised as a flop since his arrival at the Etihad—in his more accustomed defensive midfield role as opposed to the central defensive position he has struggled mightily in this season.
Along with Fernandinho, Garcia's selection gave the visitors an actual double-pivot that would seek to provide a great double-shield for the back four behind them.
It also meant that David Silva didn't have to play a regulation box-to-box role.
He could attack more and have confidence in doing so.
At the same time, it's worth noting here the squad Guardiola put together and, in particular, the positions he assigned to Thiago Alcantara.
Guardiola's big signing of the summer, Alcantara can play a number of roles in a team and has featured in box-to-box roles before. He has the skills to drive forward from a deep-lying position (similar to how Toure featured for City last season), but much like Toure, he isn't a defensive midfielder.
He isn't as effective screening the back four and picking up the runs of players in the middle, and Thiago was shown up in this role by the brilliance of City's central midfield trio.
The image below was a great example of the ability Silva had to press forward against a Bayern team that loves to press their opponents throughout midfield.
It's also a great example of Thiago's spacial unawareness, if we can call it that.
Silva is able to play directly between the defensive and midfield lines of Bayern, pick up the pass and then assess his options. Thiago is nowhere near him, and that allows Silva to pick a perfect pass out wide to James Milner—allowing City's attack to continue to that next level.
Fast forward the tape a little and again we can see that Silva has simply blown by Thiago with his run into the box. This forces central defender Jerome Boateng to come over from his position near the penalty box to snuff out the chance—opening up space in behind for Edin Dzeko, who is now in a very isolated one-on-one situation with Dante that only benefits the attacker.
Silva's cross comes in and, shock horror, Dzeko gets their first. Manuel Neuer is forced to make a great save low to his right, and City are perhaps a shade unlucky not to pick up a goal here—such is the fluency and genuine simplicity they executed in this move.
Boateng is pulled out of position by Thiago, who, it also must be noted, can't even snuff out the cross into the box or the space ahead of Dzeko to atone for his error.
The fluency Silva and Fernandinho began to have on Thiago in particular throughout the second half started to show because City just started to look better. Their passes started to stick; they enjoyed longer spells of possession than they had in the opening half-an-hour or so.
Their pressing in defense started to become more effective also.
Look at the image below. Bayern are moving the ball forward into a good attacking area with multiple attackers surrounding Fernandinho in the middle of the field.
Within seconds, Garcia (and many other City midfielders) are there.
A few more seconds later, City are breaking away up field, and force Bayern to drop rapidly—something few opponents have forced the Germans to do this year.
Guardiola would see how ineffective his central midfield was proving to be after half-time and made the move to replace attacking midfielder Mario Gotze with a more regulation defensive midfielder in Javi Martinez. But in reality, the damage had already been done: City's midfield trio had already started to establish their dominance and had won their confidence and belief back.
Even with Martinez on the pitch, Silva and Fernandinho were by then too in control to be troubled and allowed Manchester City to claw their way back to victory.
Bayern's dominance (and in particular their effectiveness in applying defensive pressure from midfield) has meant Guardiola is able to play someone who isn't the strongest defender in a defensive midfielder role and not be troubled by an opponents' attack at all.
Yet it is something he may need to think about once more.
Andre Villas-Boas is learning the hard way at Tottenham Hotspur that he cannot field two attacking-minded midfielders together in the middle of the field.
Perhaps Guardiola needs to recognise this in his Bayern team from time to time.
Now if only they hadn't let Luis Gustavo go...
City Eventually Defeat Bayern in a Battle of Width
Of all the talking points to come out of this match—which there most certainly were—perhaps the greatest of them all was City's effective use of the wide areas.
As we saw in the first goal for Bayern, the Germans love to utilize their wide man in attack, but in the end, it was the visitors who better managed out wide. The likes of Jesus Navas and James Milner were far more effective on the ball than their direct opponents (Ribery and Muller, respectively) and this eventually saw City snare an incredible come-from-behind victory.
Both Milner and Navas were able to stay very wide on the night and find plenty of space as a result. Bayern's central midfield trio were very tight on Fernandinho and Garcia throughout the night, and while that brought them some success, it also exposed them when the two City players were able to distribute the pass—as we can see clearly in the image below.
A tough pass is played into Fernandinho, who quickly attracts attention.
But because the summer signing is able to quickly distribute the ball out wide (this time to Kolarov who can then play it up field to Milner), City are able to break in attack and find space on the wings due to the fact Bayern have somewhat overcommitted to the middle of the field.
The winning goal was another example of this.
Alaba was so much more interested in trying to win the ball of Silva that he allowed Navas to get incredibly wide, which allowed the winger time to make his run, collect the pass and then cross into the box.
On the other wing, right-back Philipp Lahm (who has been used centrally from Guardiola this year) opted to pick up Dzeko—the lone centre forward—and compress Bayern's defense. Which, once the pass ran right through their attack, suddenly put them under a mountain of pressure.
Both Fernandinho and Milner arrived at the top of the box with plenty of space and, more importantly, time to assess which option they wanted to pursue.
When we were 2-0 down I thought we might lose but we scored three times and won 3-2 instead.— Boring James Milner (@BoringMilner) December 10, 2013
The latter chose to take the strike and create history in the process.
Which, he was clearly quite satisfied with.