A 4-2 success at the Allianz Arena last night would have not only cancelled out Manchester City’s chastening 3-1 defeat to Bayern Munich at the Etihad Stadium in October, it would also have sent the visiting side through as Group D winners.
Unlike some assumed in the City dressing room, most notably the club’s Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini, 5-2 was never required on the head-to-head between these two teams, who ended a throbbing evening locked on 15 points from six group matches. Never has a win tasted so sweet yet so vexing. Bayern lost, but won the section.
Whatever is said publicly, there must be a feeling among the City hierarchy that basic errors in failing to realise the permutations could prove more expensive than the ones that saw Bayern Munich move 2-0 clear in the opening 12 minutes.
Thomas Mueller and Mario Goetze benefited from some wretched defending to beat the blameless Joe Hart, but the aura of invincibility would soon mysteriously wear off Pep Guardiola’s team. When Bayern meandered two to the good, nobody could have foreseen the Premier League side rattling the home net three times.
At that stage, on such a celebrated stage, the most optimistic soul could hardly have predicted City blowing an obvious chance to leave Munich sweating about perhaps landing Real Madrid or Barcelona in Monday's last-16 draw. Poor old Pellegrini can't win it seems, even when he wins.
This was his first success over Guardiola in 11 attempts as a coach harking back to their time in La Liga, but he will be accused of failing to fully understand the vagaries of such an undulating evening.
He should not be the sole figure to blame, but he was party to a basic set of miscalculations in a tournament that has caused City much consternation in recent years. With his side having recovered to lead 3-2 courtesy of goals from David Silva, an Aleksandar Kolarov penalty - brought on by the error-ridden Dante felling James Milner - and a delicious Milner goal, it seems the visiting side's fate lay in their own hands.
Bayern Munich were suffering one of those rare off nights encouraged by their own arrogance, lack of focus and sloppiness, seeming to switch off mentally on the cusp of an 11th straight European win that would soon be torn from their hands by the probing play of Silva.
When Milner's shot hit the rigging from 16 yards after the former City defender Jerome Boateng had inexplicably failed to clear a Jesus Navas cross, there were 28 minutes plus stoppage time for the visiting side to find a fourth goal.
Rather than opt to introduce Sergio Aguero, Pellegrini seemed content to play on the counter attack, blissfully unaware that only one goal was needed to see them usurp Bayern.
Alvaro Negredo replaced a partially fit Silva on 70 minutes while Jack Rodwell took over from Edin Dzeko when the scene was crying out for Aguero. Micah Richards had hobbled off with a hamstring strain early on to be replaced by the reliable Pablo Zabaleta.
“Maybe if we had have scored a fourth goal, I would have made the change,” said Pellegrini, highlighting his lack of homework. It is ironic that all this was going on two years on from the same spot a sulking Carlos Tevez apparently refused to get off the City bench in a 2-0 loss.
His fellow Argentine Aguero may not have scored, but with 18 goals in 19 games this season, City would have maximised their prospects with him on. Manuel Neuer made one fine stop from Negredo, but Bayern were quite comfortable late on.
What all this means for City is a less favourable draw. They will be thrown in against a group winner rather than a group runner-up. Some might suggest thrown to the wolves.
Clubs from the same country are kept apart in the first knock-out stage leaving City to possibly confront Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona or AC Milan in the next round. Contrast Bayern's possible opponents in the form of a Juventus, Olympiacos, Basel, Zenit St Petersburg or Porto.
Suddenly the benefits of second spot become clear. "We didn’t know if 4-2 would be enough or if we would need 5-2. We thought it needed to be 5-2 to be honest," said Milner. "It’s not easy to score three goals here, so to score four would have been a tough task.
"We’re slightly disappointed we did not finish top of the group. But to be slightly disappointed at beating Bayern Munich in their own ground is pretty pleasing.”
Milner was exceptional for City. He is a reliable figure for his club and country ploughing a furrow down the left wing while Jesus Navas did likewise on the other flank.
Unfairly berated by some critics for having the rare ability to follow a manager’s instructions, Milner became the first Englishman to score for City in the Champions League. He played provider for Silva's goal.
If Bayern were going to lose, this was not a bad one to choose. Like their 2-0 home defeat to Arsenal in the round of 16 last year, it should not have any lasting damage, but does provide a timely reminder to the Champions League holders that nobody is infallible.
Especially when such a side are taking liberties. "I honestly do not know what happened," said Ballon d’Or nominee Franck Ribery. "We started well in the game, but after that we took this team lightly. There was a loosening up and ultimately the game is lost. We made a lot of mistakes due to our lack of concentration.”
Ribery lost his way like so many of his companions. It was a sight that will surely encourage some of Europe’s larger concerns. City have spent millions upon millions of petrodollars building a squad ripe for this scene.
They are not a million miles away from getting it right. It is just a shame that the information they needed to complete last night's assignment was free of charge.
The cost of the oversight will only be discovered if they face a trip to the Camp Nou or the Bernabeu in February.
- Sports & Recreation
- Bayern Munich
- Manuel Pellegrini
- James Milner
- David Silva
- Sergio Aguero