All that matters is victory, of course, but it was a curious display of Manchester City studded with lax marks and focus. Pep Guardiola’s side ended up returning an 18th unbeaten group game – 14 wins in a row – but he will surely blame his accusations for the botched tariff they produced.
With Paris Saint-Germain on the side, City can’t afford a repeat against Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé, Neymar and company, who will surely watch the movie of it and smell the blood. Guardiola’s men have been able to react every time they have conceded here but will inevitably have more difficulty facing the aristocrats of Mauricio Pochettino.
City’s first group game results showed five wins, four losses and a draw with just one setback under Guardiola – a 1-0 loss to Lyon, in 2018, despite the manager serving a sideline ban so his assistant, Mikel Arteta, was in charge for the 90 minutes.
It seemed unlikely that City would be troubled by RB Leipzig whose rambling start to the season was marked by a lone victory in four Bundesliga games. From a match-day squad that lacked John Stones and Aymeric Laporte, whose physical form prevented them from training on Tuesday, Guardiola’s pair of center-backs were Nathan Aké and Rúben Dias, captain on the night, with Ferran Torres again the striker, Riyad Mahrez and Jack Grealish in support, with Kevin De Bruyne, returning from injury, the conductor.
After Guardiola urged his side to go “a step further” than last season’s losing final, a first foray saw De Bruyne and Torres interconnect before the former’s cross was picked up by Peter Gulacsi . Here, the Spaniard matched the Belgian’s quick-wittedness in an instant return pass that surprised De Bruyne and bode well for City. The same goes for Grealish’s opening contribution as a Champions League rookie, the reverse turnaround in Torres’ oozing cunning and No.21 run before being flagged offside.
Leipzig were already in the fight for a decent ball and territory. A Dani Olmo shot he pumped over was just about the ‘best’ they could think of, as City then took the lead. This was foreshadowed by a Mahrez ball floated to the far post from the right. He was cleared for a corner – by Nordi Mukiele – Grealish slashed the delivery and Aké got up to beat two defenders and Gulacsi with a powerful header.
The limit of Guardiola’s celebration was a gentle fist pump but a 20-minute lead will have him delighted. Likewise, the thirst for advancing instantly again, Mahrez again getting into position to pull the trigger, this time on a curving effort that has become wide. Grealish’s subsequent contributions were a knockout and the drawing of a foul by an already frustrated Christopher Nkunku. Emotion was about to permeate all of Leipzig when an unfortunate Mukiele led De Bruyne’s delivery past Gulacsi for City’s second.
To characterize lightly: this was the very last thing the Germans needed and at this point a serious defeat seemed possible. Only one item usually rare under Guardiola could get them back into the contest – the complacency of their hosts.
Surprisingly, there was precisely that. As the break approached, Olmo was cleared to play a pass to the left, Emile Forsberg lifted the cross, Mukiele returned to Nkunku and he beat Ederson.
City, however, finished the half with almost total control. A header from Torres hit Lukas Klostermann’s arm and after VAR ordered Serdar Gozubuyuk to consult with the pitch monitor, the referee awarded the penalty. Mahrez crushed that for a 3-1 lead and the visitors were once again distant contenders to take anything from the contest.
Calamity and farce nearly befell Gulacsi during his turf career as Torres scored his goal, with the keeper eventually managing to regain his balance and save the attacker’s weak shot. Torres would soon regret this because at 50 minutes, Nkunku had a second: while trying to make a tackle, De Bruyne stumbled over Gozubuyuk and Olmo could therefore receive, then come between Dias and Aké too easily for Nkunku to score at new.
It was an alarming defense and Jesse Marsch believed his team could actually thrive. Who could blame him? City had conceded two loose goals and there had been a snort of upset.
Grealish, however, had another idea and that was to illustrate why it cost £ 100million. Collecting on the left, a hollow shoulder left Tyler Adams a statue, before the wide man accelerated and gently curled up to bring the score to 4-2.
Still, Guardiola remained preoccupied in his usual technical zone position, inflicting a joyful pure laugh at Mahrez that the Algerian had no choice but to accept.
City also had to swallow Nkunku as they landed a hat-trick, hammering Yussuf Poulsen’s pass, to leave Guardiola in despair. Still, that ding-dong affair got an eighth goal two minutes later when a João Cancelo piledriver made it 5-3 for City.
An incident rich evening then saw Angeliño, once from that parish, receive a second yellow as Leipzig sailed the last 10 minutes of a lightweight. And, in the end, the replacement, Gabriel Jesus had made the margin categorical.