Manchester City travelled to Germany to face Schalke hoping to make quick work of the home side. Schalke sit 14th in the Bundesliga and have not been a good side this season. But the Champions League is always different and anything can change the game. Whether it is quality play, crazy conditions or terrible refereeing.
Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling Save City at the Death
The game started out just like City would have hoped. They were good on the ball and better in the press; forcing Schalke into a ton of errors trying to play out from the back. Like when David Silva pick-pocketed Salif Sane before squaring it to a wide open Sergio Aguero for the opening goal. It’s always nice when the old guard makes the opposing team pay.
But that was about the only moment of joy City had in the first half. They kept possession and generated eleven first-half shots, but none beyond the goal was a clear chance. What they did do though was conceded two penalties that were both dispatched by Schalke midfielder Nabil Bentaleb.
This year’s Champions League Round of 16 is the first UEFA competition to include VAR and they still have some kinks to work out. When Spanish referee Carlos del Cerro Grande tried to use in the first after the ball struck the hand of Nicolas Otamendi, he was unable. Reportedly, the screen was broken during the match and unable to be used. So the ref relied on his partners in the replay booth, as Spanish referees often do, and awarded the penalty.
It was a harsh handball to be fair. Otamendi is about 10 meters from the shot and the ball strikes his arm as he moving it behind his back. And it would have been nice to see ref stick with his original decision in the absence of the replay he wanted. But what happened next had nothing to do with the referee.
Seemingly still shell shocked, Manchester City failed to react to the penalty and five minutes later conceded a second penalty. This time when a free-kick came into the box Fernandinho grabbed Schalke centre-back Salif Sane and brought him to the ground. Nothing the ref could do but award the pen and suddenly City were down 2-1 heading into halftime.
The Second Half
City came out of the blocks flying when the second half whistle was blown. They created about two or three chances, a couple of shots just wide and a nice save within the first five minutes. It seemed like they were going to get the equalizing goal. Manchester City was moving higher and higher up the pitch, pressing the life out of Schalke.
When your playing that way one ball over the top can cost you. In this case, it did not cost Manchester City a goal but it cost them a man. Nicholas Otamendi, already booked for the handball penalty, whacked Schalke striker Guido Burgstaller in his plant foot on the break. He earned his second yellow with that tackle, on two harsh yellows. As he walked off the pitch it felt like City’s hope of a result went with him.
The Sane and Sterling Show
With about 15 minutes left Pep decided to take Sergio Aguero off and replace him with Leroy Sane. Putting Sane up top with Raheem Sterling meant all kinds of problems for Schalke’s defence. But I doubt they expected those problems to come on a free-kick, and when Leroy Sane stepped up and buried a curler from 25 yards they were even more shocked.
It was a beautiful curler into the top corner, perfect for Sane on his first return to the place where he made his professional debut. And it came with time still for City to snatch a winner. Five minutes later Sterling got under the flight of an Ederson long ball, dispatched the Schalke defender, and finished over the onrushing goalie.
City had completed the comeback. From 2-1 down with 10 minutes to go, down a man, they came back to get a massive away win. It means more than just the great feelings those players will have in the dressing room. They came back when literally everything seemed like it was going against them. That is the type of character that dynastys, not just titles, are built on.
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