Both Manchester City and Lyon understood the magnitude of tonight’s UEFA Champions League game. The winner would punch their ticket to the Champions League knockout stage. If City won, they would clinch their group, but were very short-handed in midfield, making for quite the tasty affair.
Manchester City v Lyon: Champions League at its Best
The first half was more end-to-end than anyone could have expected. From the start of the game, Lyon made it clear what they wanted to do; hit City for pace. They had Memphis Depay and Maxwell Cornet up front and, back from injury just for this game, their captain Nabil Fekir. However, it was their midfield pair that stole the first-half show.
Tanguy Ndombele and Hassam Aoaur are two of the most coveted young midfielders in world football and they certainly proved their worth tonight. At the half-time whistle, both had completed over 90% of their passes and Aoaur had made four tackles by himself. That was twice as many tackles as Manchester City made in the same period.
It was that midfield performance that allowed Lyon to create the best chances of the half. Three times they should have scored; once, Memphis Depay swung over a ball two feet in front of goal and twice Cornet took an awful touch to control while wide open in the six-yard box, giving Aymeric Laporte time to get over and cover. Then, just before half-time, Cornet hit a swinging volley that bounced off the angle of the net. They should have been 3-0 up by the break.
It started to feel like Lyon were going to rue those missed chances but you certainly could have fooled them. After half-time, City tried to control the possession more than they did. It didn’t work. A foul in midfield allowed Marcelo to hit a lovely ball over the top to Memphis Depay. Depay then hit another cross-field pass to Cornet, who controlled, took a touch out of his feet and shaped a beauty with his left into the far corner.
It was an outstanding finish that Cornet deserved after two missed chances to score in the first half. But City weren’t going to just let them win, they had plenty to offer. A few minutes after the goal, Sergio Aguero’s header forced a world-class save from Anthony Lopes. Then, in the 63rd minute, they equalised after a free-kick from Raheem Sterling was headed on by David Silva, for Laporte to smash the ball home.
In the 70th minute, the first change was made with City, bringing Fabian Delph on for Leroy Sane to try and bring more control to the game. It was clear what Guardiola intended with this change, but it certainly didn’t work.
Cornet received the ball in between John Stones and Laporte and his beautiful touch set him away. He sped up to into the box and hammered a low shot into the bottom of the net but it lasted less than two minutes. A Riyad Mahrez corner was headed home beautifully by Sergio Aguero to give this wild-paced game the goals it deserved.
With ten minutes to play, everyone knew those wouldn’t be the last chances of the game. After the second goal went in, Lyon made a clear effort to try and hold for the point, while City controlled possession and, as tends to happen in that situation, the game went goalless as both teams settled for the 2-2 draw.
For the first 45 minutes, this game was dominated by Lyon. Ndombele and Aoaur are really, really good and we will all see plenty of them in the future. As well, Maxwell Cornet, what a weird season he is having. He has started two games for Lyon all season, both in the Champions League against City. In those two games, he now has three goals.
And for City, there have to be a lot of questions about this game. Fernandinho, after picking up an early yellow card, was clearly a different player. They need to find someone to fill his position otherwise his necessity to this team could be a problem. Even after the heroics of Sergio Aguero, Laporte was the star of the show.
He covered everywhere and anyone in that Manchester City backline, a truly great performance all over the field. Without his excellent positioning and reading of the game, City would have given up three or four goals instead of two they did.
The draw means that City have qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League. Meanwhile, Lyon will have to go to Ukraine and take on Shakhtar Donetsk in two weeks to determine if they will go through as well.