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Mahrez penalty saved as Manchester City held by Borussia Dortmund | Champions League

Of course, Manchester City came to win. It’s just that, if they really needed it, you felt they probably would have found a way. A draw here suited both sides well, with City already through to the last 16 and Borussia Dortmund needing just one point. And despite all the brief flurries of drama, including a missed second-half penalty by Riyad Mahrez, it was ultimately a game of diminished ambitions and thwarted plans: a learning experience rather than a searing competition.

So what did Pep Guardiola learn? Probably a lot of things he already knew. This city at nothing less than its usual feverish intensity remains vulnerable in transition. This goalkeeper Stefan Ortega is a fine and reliable assistant to Ederson. That Julian Álvarez can be a viable plan B when Erling Haaland is injured or rested.

Haaland exited after a warm welcome from his former supporters and a quiet, brooding 45 minutes. Álvarez, who moved to centre-forward in the second half, was lively and busy, although a resilient Dortmund defense limited him to limited goal views.

And even though the stakes weren’t at their highest, the mood was still just as fierce and raucous. The Yellow Wall pushed, howled and hammered all the old tunes, a hurricane of songs and aggression. They roared as Mats Hummels slid over Haaland early on as he spied the goal and roared at City’s long spells of possession, which thanks to a well-organized press from Dortmund, weren’t quite as as many as Guardiola would have liked.

Edin Terzic’s Dortmund are the egg of a curate of a team at the moment: capable of brilliant blitzes and still in an open Bundesliga title race despite an indifferent start to the season. But consistency has been their curse, an unpredictability born not only of results but also of layout.

Here again, they returned to the curious hybrid system deployed earlier in the season, with a well-protected back three and two die-hard wingers in Karim Adeyemi and Gio Reyna: a team cut out for lightning transitions, but also one that required mastery. mastery of space and a sixth sense of danger.

Guardiola had decided to take another look at Álvarez up front: nominally starting alongside Haaland but often dropping deeper to tie play or create space.

John Stones, in the squad for the first time in over a month, started at right-back; João Cancelo played his usual freeform-jazz solo role on the left. And yet, for all of City’s promising approach play, it was Dortmund who looked most threatening earlier, countering with numbers, often one good pass away from breaking play completely.

Reyna had a shot from 18 yards. Youssoufa Moukoko had two golden chances to open the scoring late in the first half. In many ways, that has been Dortmund’s Achilles’ heel this season: poor execution in the final third and a consequent failure to capitalize on their dominant spells.

Haaland and Cancelo came off early in the second half, ushering in perhaps the most intriguing period of the game. Both teams seemed to loosen up a bit, gaps started to appear and, initially, it looked like City would benefit.

They won a penalty when Mahrez played his usual show-and-hide game with Emre Can, dropped the shoulder, fired a clear foul and stepped forward to take the penalty himself.

But Gregor Kobel, the much maligned goalkeeper, threw himself on his right to make a good save. The yellow wall burst again and a pardoned Dortmund sensed that this might be their night.

But soon after, the blue waves of pressure began to overwhelm them. Stones moved up to midfield and started running the game like a traffic cop.

Ilkay Gündogan started to loiter further forward and shift the point of attack. Jack Grealish came on for the final 10 minutes in a bid to wreak havoc on a tired Dortmund defense that had started to sink a bit into the ropes, securing the point they needed. The wall held firm in the end; that City weren’t determined to crack him, he would ultimately prove to be Dortmund’s greatest fortune.


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