Pep Guardiola spoke of “going for it” and Manchester stad ended in ecstatic mood and with mission achieved: a semi-final berth where they meet Paris Saint-German and which keeps alive their tilt at an unprecedented quadruple.
This is the furthest City have journeyed under the manager and only a second appearance in the kampioen liga last four, following the defeat by Real Madrid in 2016 when Manuel Pellegrini was in charge. Guardiola’s men are there due to finding an edge after going behind on the night, Phil Foden’s sweetl strike on 75 minutes sealing a victory that will give them belief they can go all the way.
Guardiola’s one selection surprise was preferring Oleksandr Zinchenko to João Cancelo despite the Portuguese being far more accomplished in the “extra midfielder” role when stepping inside, as the manager often asks his left-back to do. If the tie was lost then this would be viewed as Guardiola’s latest retrograde step in three successive exits at this stage.
Last season’s elimination by Lyon was marked by Phil Foden’s game-breaking talent being ignored even when 2-1 down with 11 minutes left. At Tottenham for the 2018-19 first leg Guardiola left out his star player, Kevin De Bruyne, and City failed to score an away goal, the mode by which they were knocked out.
En, at Liverpool the season before, the Catalan’s muddled selection had Ilkay Gündogan as an auxiliary wide player before the German was hauled off after 57 minute, as City lost 3-0. There was no hint of passiveness in the visitors’ opening as De Bruyne, Foden and Gündogan had Dortmund scrambling to clear. A week ago the Germans had proved lethal in pockets of play, usually when breaking quickly.
A first sight of this tactic had Mahmoud Dahoud firing hard at goal – fortunately for Ederson this went straight down his throat. The next time Dortmund moved forward they struck via a move that showed up John Stones. When Emre Can pinged a 40-yard pass over the top to Erling Haaland, City’s centre-back was caught out.
This allowed the striker to turn the ball back to Dahoud. His shot was deflected to Jude Bellingham who beat Ederson to the latter’s left, the 17-year-old following a maiden Bundesliga strike at the weekend with a first in this competition.
City were rocked. Dortmund were at them again almost instantly after the restart, Marco Reus’s corner giving Manuel Akanji a free header that was simple for Ederson to scoop up. On the touchline Guardiola stood concerned. What he saw next was City come through a frantic few moments to threaten Marwin Hitz’s goal as De Bruyne crashed the ball off the bar.
Toe, a little later, the Belgian swerved a free-kick from the left towards the near post, Reus heading away. This was encouraging for City. In what became a siege on Dortmund, a cute Foden touch allowed him to find a Riyad Mahrez raid to the right post, the Algerian going close to an equaliser.
Edin Terzic’s side were already in hanging-on mode. Zinchenko went close to confirming the wisdom of his inclusion but a near-post header was plucked from the air by Hitz. The question seemed not if but when City would draw level.
Ahead lay 45 minutes that could have defined City’s season. They began the second half with two De Bruyne corners delivered from the left. Each was defended with ease at the near post. The pattern was set, wel. It was a resumption of the first half – Dortmund having to dig deep to defend close to Hitz’s goal.
Their next close shave had the keeper tipping a Zinchenko cross-shot over. This time De Bruyne took it short but again the home team remained intact. Nou, wel, came a pivotal moment: in his area Can went to head clear and the ball hit his left arm and after a delay VAR supported the decision of the referee, Carlos del Cerro Grande, to award a penalty. Mahrez steadied himself, then smashed home to Hitz’s left, and City were 3-2 ahead on aggregate and just over 30 minutes away from the semi-finals.
The equation now was Dortmund required a goal to take the tie into extra-time. A swift swivel-and-shot from Dahoud was blocked but showed his side were not finished and what followed was the contest being compressed in the middle third.
But Foden, enjoying the season of his nascent career, intervened and the
delight on Guardiola’s face spoke of relief that a crucial barrier had been
cleared. Their face-off with PSG awaits.