Atalanta fought back to rescue a 1-1 draw against Manchester City at the San Siro, with Mario Pašalić cancelling out a Raheem Sterling opener after Gabriel Jesus missed a penalty. Claudio Bravo was sent off late on having come off the bench, leaving Kyle Walker in goal for ten minutes in comical circumstances.
Here’s what we learned from the trip to the Italy…
This has to be one of the worst days for the art of goalkeeping in City history. I think we’d better start from the beginning.
Ederson started the game between the sticks. No surprises there. He didn’t concede for the whole half – so far, so good. His passing was a bit off but there was no indication anything was wrong. Then he went off at half time.
This wasn’t ideal, true, but Bravo is a perfectly capable replacement. Right? Well, that’s what I thought, but within five minutes he’d conceded. Not the ideal start but the goal wasn’t really Bravo’s fault. Then, with ten minutes to go, the Chilean pulled off one of the craziest goalkeeping moves in recent memory, rushing out of goal to a ball he would never reach and wiping out the onrushing striker. Of course it was a red card.
Enter City’s most successful ever goalkeeper – well, kind of.
Walker readily donned the gloves and stopped the free-kick in incredible fashion before displaying a Neuer-like calmness to see City hold onto a point. It was a shambolic night for City goalkeepers. Thank god the expert arrived on the pitch in time to show the others how it’s done.
From Terrific with Touré to Terrible from Twelve Yards
It’s cost us before and it will cost us again: something needs to be done about Manchester City’s penalty takers. Last season alone there was the Riyad Mahrez horror show at Anfield and the Aguero saved spot-kick against Spurs that could have changed the whole European tie. Tonight we had to endure the worst yet – a pathetically weak effort from Gabriel Jesus. Yes, we score more than we miss, but relative to the percentage scored that we should expect, City’s penalty record since the departure of flawless taker Yaya Touré is absolutely wretched.
The frustrating thing for City fans is that the solution is blindingly obvious and was even on the pitch today: Ilkay Gundogan. The German has a near-immaculate record from 12 yards, took them regularly for Dortmund and even dispatched one in a Champions League final. When Aguero and Jesus continue to miss chances on the regular, how long will it be before Pep loses patience with his let-the-players-choose policy and just assigns duties to the man he knows is more reliable?
Despite the aforementioned horrendous penalty miss, Gabriel Jesus was one of the stars of the show tonight. Not only is he a vastly different player to Aguero, his inclusion means a front three that play in a hugely different way.
The highlight of his performance was an outstanding backheel flick to set up Sterling’s opener, a pass that Aguero may not even have attempted. The movement to draw the defender in his direction was textbook Jesus, and these runs are already a key feature of his play. His objective is not necessarily to receive the ball on these runs, but on this occasion that’s exactly what happened, and the #9 knew exactly where Sterling would be to finish the move. Sure, he may not score as many as Aguero- but the rise of his compatriot Roberto Firmino may be a precedent for a City striker who doesn’t need to focus on numbers.
Injuries Taking A Toll
Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi have both played a vital part in City’s success over the last five years. Both are unafraid of a good tackle, capable with the ball at their feet and have grabbed their share of big goals. What neither of them are, however, is very tall. Tonight, as Mario Pašalić ghosted in to head home after half time, that weakness was exposed.
Conceding from crosses has been a major problem for City of late, both from corners and open play. Of course, it’s hard to imagine this being so pronounced if John Stones and Aymeric Laporte were Guardiola’s partnership, as would surely be the case if they’d stayed fit all season. We can’t pretend that this is the first time that Laporte in particular has been missed, with the good news now being that his spell left on the sidelines is only getting shorter. Against Atalanta that couldn’t help us- and City paid the price for the absence of their best defenders.
Qualification Within Reach
Finally, time to end on a quick high note. Tonight’s draw not only condemned Atalanta to almost certain elimination from the competition, it also left City five points clear of second place and looking strong favourites to top the group. In fact, a win at home to Shaktar in a few weeks would seal top spot for City.
That would probably mean a start in the last match-day for the likes of Phil Foden, Angeliño and more- not to mention the privilege of playing the final match without pressure. This could be an invaluable advantage for City as they look to pile more pressure onto Liverpool in the Premier League title race.
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