Manchester City lives dangerously in the Champions League again. Phil Foden’s 90th-minute winner may have earned them a 2-1 quarter-final win in the first leg against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday, but Pep Guardiola’s team is vulnerable to yet another early exit from the competition they are desperate to win .
This is Guardiola’s fifth attempt to bring City Champions League glory and the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach have yet to lead the club past the last eight.
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Foden’s goal, scored six minutes after Marco Reus’ opener after Kevin De Bruyne’s opening game for Dortmund in the first half, ensures that City will travel to Germany with a narrow lead for next week’s second leg. Remarkably, Foden’s goal secured City’s first quarter-final win in the Champions League first leg in four attempts under Guardiola
After City has been eliminated from Monaco (round of 16), Liverpool, Tottenham and Lyon since Guardiola took office in 2016, City will meet Dortmund next Wednesday.
“It’s better to win than to draw,” said Guardiola. “Two-one, Champions League, we’re going there (Dortmund) to win the game.”
This was a night when history showed signs of repeating itself for City. Not for the first time in a game of this magnitude, Guardiola started with a surprise XI after leaving Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus on the bench. It was only Foden’s goal that Guardiola spared a closer scrutiny of his selection.
But while City ultimately scratched the win, it’s hard to argue that they deserved the win.
A poor performance by referee Ovidiu Hategan was limited by the Romanian official’s decision to ban a 37th-minute goal by Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham for a foul on city keeper Ederson.
It seemed like a tough decision even in real time, but replay showed the teen had won the ball cleanly before shooting into an empty net. However, the goal was disqualified and VAR (Video Assistant Referee) was not allowed to correct Hategan’s mistake as the event took place outside the penalty area.
“Apparently my bolts were up and they thought it was a foul,” said Bellingham after the game.
That decision gave City a happy escape, but it also highlighted the danger posed by Dortmund and Bellingham in particular. The 17-year-old, who has become an English international since moving from Birmingham City to Germany last summer, was outstanding for Edin Terzic’s team and showed a mature and controlled performance in midfield.
Bellingham’s pass to Erling Haaland, which the Norwegian then cleverly switched to Reus, led to Dortmund’s late equalization and showed the threat Dortmund will face in the home game next week. It was a goal that demonstrated Bellingham’s talent and Haaland’s awareness, as well as Reus’ enduring quality.
Haaland, coupled with a summer move to City, was calm on his first visit to Etihad, but the pass to Reus was an example of his skill, as was his only attempt to outperform Ruben Dias before testing Ederson with a low shot.
But while Dortmund took the opportunity and complained about the recent fights in Germany, in which they slipped to fifth place in the Bundesliga table, City tried to win. Perhaps they created complacency after being used as overwhelming favorites to win the tie and set up a semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain or reigning European champions Bayern Munich.
The city was slow, unsharp and unusually sloppy in the background. De Bruyne was a rare positive result for Guardiola’s team, temporarily overtaken and surpassed by Dortmund.
But while they ultimately won the game, the 2-1 draw for Guardiola’s side in Dortmund next week will undoubtedly make life difficult. A 1-0 win for the home team will be enough to reach the semi-finals. Since Haaland is unlikely to be so calm in the second leg, City will walk a tightrope at Signal Iduna Park. And the ghosts of last season’s unexpected loss to Lyon will haunt City before a game is expected to win again.
On the form and on paper, City should go through next week. But it’s a Champions League quarter-finals so anything is possible, as City has learned hard over the past few years.