Only one team in the world could play a team who had lost their three Champions League matches and draw. There is only one team who could substitute their goalkeeper, then watch as that substitute gets sent off. And there’s only one team whose only job was to get a win that would not only send them through to the last 16, but also send them through as group winners with two games left, only to fail.
And we all know who that team is!
The job was simple – win in Atalanta and City would qualify. If Shahktar and Dinamo Zagreb drew, which they eventually did, City would be group winners and they could relax for the next two rounds. But for those of you who have followed Manchester City for more than ten years, you will know that City never do things the easy way.
Raheem Sterling had given City the lead with his 14th goal of the season in a move that was straight out of the Pep Guardiola textbook. A ball into the area was backheeled brilliantly by Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling fired into the corner of the goal to give City a 7th minute lead.
There were signs that the match was going to be a little on the bizarre side when the blues were awarded a penalty just before half time, only for VAR to rule it was outside the area and award City a freekick. Raheem Sterling hit his shot into the wall, and immediately appealed for a penalty, claiming handball. A VAR check confirmed the ball hit the arm of the defender and finally, City were awarded a penalty, which Jesus put wide.
Guardiola replaced Ederson at half-time as a precautionary measure, guarding against injury with the upcoming match at Anfield in mind. On came Claudio Bravo and suddenly, City’s usually solid defence looked a little nervous, which Atalanta sensed.
Within four minutes of the restart, the home side were level as Pasalic’s header beat Bravo to make the score 1-1. City’s fluidity disappeared and the home side sensed at least their first ever Champions League point, which would help erase the memory of their 5-1 thrashing in Manchester two weeks ago.
And their hopes were raised with nine minutes remaining. Substitute Bravo raced from his area and was adjudged to have brought down Josep Ilicic when the Atalanta man was through on goal and, after a VAR check, the red card was upheld.
After another lengthy delay and with no third keeper available, Kyle Walker stepped up to the mark, donned Bravo’s shirt and took his place between the sticks. His first job was to keep out the Atalanta free kick, which he did after two attempts, giving him the statistic of making more saves than either of the two recognised keepers that took part in the match.
In fairness, Walker was barely tested by the Atalanta attack and, in order to keep the home side from putting him under any sort of pressure, the blues kept the ball in the corner for the last 90 seconds of the match, preserving the point they had and protecting the stand in keeper in the process.
City will still qualify if they beat Shahktar in the next match, but if they had just bee a bit more clinical, particularly with penalties, they’d be home and dry by now.
Atalanta 1-1 Manchester City