From Despair to Jubilation in Five Minutes – Talking Points from FC Schalke 2-3 Manchester City (UEFA Champions League)

Manchester City clinched a crucial victory from the brink after coming back from 2-1 down to win the game 3-2 in the last five minutes. Sergio Aguero opened the scoring with a tap-in from close range before two penalties gave Schalke the lead going into half time. City struggled to find a way through until Leroy Sane equalised with a stunning free-kick in the 85th minute against his boyhood club. Raheem Sterling then latched on to Ederson’s through ball and scored with a deft finish to snatch the win five minutes later.

VAR Controversy 

For the majority, before this game had even kicked off, the result was a foregone conclusion. For the majority of pundits, fans and journalists alike – the task was merely to sweep aside Schalke on their home turf in convincing fashion before the all-important, potentially season-defining, Carabao Cup final at the weekend.

However, largely thanks to referee Carlos Del Cendo Grande, the objective would prove far more complicated.

A major turning point in the game was Schalke’s equaliser. Before then, City were in full cruise control of the tie following Sergio Aguero’s opener mid-way through the half. Just 20 minutes later, Nabil Bentaleb would equalise for the home side with the most drawn out penalty decision of the season.

The incident – Otamendi’s wavering arm blocking a direct shot from outside the area. For me, it looked like a blatant penalty – but the debate was long. It highlighted just how open to interpretation the handball rule can be.

For a lot of supporters, Nico’s arm was in a natural position and was trying to move it out the way. For others, the Argentine shouldn’t have had his arm out so far in the first place. The decision itself was always up for debate, but the referee took his sweet time to award the spot-kick. Four minutes to be precise. 

The lesson here: VAR is a gift to the referee, but that doesn’t remove the debate behind rules and just how subjective the laws of football are at times. 

Manchester City’s players argue with the referee after he gave the first penalty to Schalke following VAR deliberation during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg football match between Schalke 04 and Manchester City on February 20, 2019 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP) (Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Pep’s tactical masterclass

When Pep Guardiola made the decision to take Aguero off for Leroy Sane, it left some spectators scratching their heads – wondering why Raheem Sterling, who had been ineffective all game, wasn’t making way for the German.

Little did they know, Pep’s decision would turn out to be a stroke of genius. Reverting to a false nine, allowed Bernardo Silva to drop into central-midfield whilst Sterling and Sane stayed wide waiting to make dating runs in-behind.

While this didn’t help much for Sane’s spectacular free-kick to level the game, it did help to set up the winner. Ederson launched the ball forward in added time, aiming to find the darting run of Sterling, who latched on to the long ball and side-footed it for a composed, glorious last minute winner. Helped in part by some dreadful defending.

We’ve got Guardiola…

GELSENKIRCHEN, GERMANY – FEBRUARY 20: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City looks on prior to the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 First Leg match between FC Schalke 04 and Manchester City at Veltins-Arena on February 20, 2019 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Leroy Sane’s hollywood script

It’s completely cliche when commentators exclaim ‘You couldn’t write this’ – but in this case, when Leroy Sane stepped over that free-kick with ice running through his veins, everyone was writing it in their heads.

It just had to be, hadn’t it? Sane had a look of someone completely blissful and unaware of the noise and hype around him. He looked at the frame of the goal, and exactly where he was going to put it, with almost dead-looking eyes.

Three steps later, and the German whistled an absolute beauty into the top corner – with absolutely no chance of the keeper getting anywhere near it. 

The funniest thing of all: the image of Sane trying not to celebrate in-front of his former home crowd whilst the entire squad leapt all over him.

GELSENKIRCHEN, GERMANY – FEBRUARY 20: Leroy Sane of Manchester City scores the 2nd goal for his team by penalty kick during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 First Leg match between FC Schalke 04 and Manchester City at Veltins-Arena on February 20, 2019 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images)

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