It was a wild night at the Etihad that saw 9 goals scored in a first-ever meeting between Manchester City and RB Leipzig. The scoring opened early and the strikes didn’t stop coming until the final whistle had blown. In the end, Pep Guardiola’s men earned a deserved three points.
Leipzig were keen to possess the ball from the start and the early match featured ventures at both ends that never quite found a scoring chance. RBL were awarded a pair of early free kicks in the City defensive third, one coming from an Oleksandr Zinchenko yellow card in the 12th minute. Neither set piece proved very dangerous however and soon City were back probing in the Leipzig end.
Riyadh Mahrez attempted a beautiful cross to the back post from his right wing position that would have found Jack Grealish right on the doorstep if not for a Nordi Mukiele header that cleared the ball over the line for a City corner. The corner kick proved to be an even better chance as Nathan Aké headed home the in-swinger from Grealish. Péter Gulácsi was only able to get a hand on the attempt, which sent the ball crashing into the bottom of the crossbar and into the back of his net.
AKE HEADER GOALLLLLLL— Bitter and Blue (@BitterandBlue1) September 15, 2021
The next run of action saw City establishing the edge with possession and looking to be the more dangerous club. Kevin De Bruyne, making his first start of the year for City, looked to suffer no ill effects from his layoff as he picked out players with his trademark pin-point passing. In the 28th minute KDB looked to find Grealish, who was once again making a run to goal, but this time Mukiele’s clearing header found it’s way into the net for an own goal. City held a 2-0 lead and looked ready to cruise on the night.
On what would become the theme for RB Leipzig, they were able to cut the deficit in half with just over 3 minutes left in the opening stanza. After a nice spell of possession in City’s final third, Emil Forsberg sent a cross past Ederson’s goal which found Mukiele. Mukiele’s header went back toward the 6-yard box where Christophe Nkunku headed it home, cutting the Man City lead in half.
It looked that the teams would head to the dressing room with a scoreline of Man City 2-1 RBL, but once again Grealish and KDB set up a scoring opportunity for the Blues. Super Jack had the ball near the end line on the left, and found KDB in front of the penalty area. Playing the conductor once more, he passed to Mahrez on the right who crossed to the penalty spot where Ferran Torres was waiting to head the ball on goal. His shot deflected off the outstretched arm of Lukas Klostermann which was confirmed by VAR for a penalty kick.
City’s history with penalties, particularly in the Champions League, did give cause for some nervousness. But Mahrez stepped up to the spot and buried a screamer into the top left corner of Gulácsi’s goal to reclaim the two-goal lead for Pep’s side. It would prove to be the strike of the ball before Dutch referee Serdar Gözübüyük blew his whistle for halftime.
The second half featured even more scoring, and didn’t take long for the action to ramp back up. American midfielder Tyler Adams received a 49th minute yellow card as he committed a harsh foul on Grealish. But just two minutes later Leipzig were on the attack again with a quick succession of passes from their own penalty area which ended with Dani Olmo finding Nkunku in the box for another header that found it’s way past Ederson.
With the score now 3-2 the pressure was placed back on City, and it was clear that RBL had no intention of going away quietly. Luckily for the Etihad faithful, the Sky Blues weren’t done just yet either. Just 5 minute after Nkunku’s second, Grealish took advantage of a slow defensive response to cut through into the area and bend a sublime right-footed strike into the Leipzig net for City’s 4th.
Shortly after the Grealish strike, former City man Angeliño found his name written in Gözübüyük’s book with a yellow card after pulling De Bruyne back to stop a potential City break, A flurry of changes followed the booking with City bringing on Ilkay Gündogan, Fernandinho, Phil Foden, and Raheem Sterling over the next 12 minutes of game time. Leipzig also made wholesale swaps, but one player they left in place was Nkunku who was on a hat trick.
Nkunku would get his third on the night at 73 minutes. Tight-space passing from Leipzig sprung Nkunku into the penalty area where he found himself one-v-one with Ederson. He was able to slot his shot into the low left corner of the City goal just past the outstretched arms of the Brazilian net minder.
With the match at 4-3 and the result very far from settled, City went back to the business of trying to secure the three points. Sterling was fouled deep in the Leipzig end. And his quick restart set of a string of crisp passes from Grealish to Gündogan to João Cancelo, who let loose a blast from 22 yards that screamed past Gulácsi to put City up 5-3 in the 74th minute.
Still, with Leipzig’s counter-punching ability already proven, City could not feel safe. But in the 79th minute Angeliño once again committed a cynical foul, this time plowing through Cancelo in midfield. He received a second yellow for his efforts, and the ever-resilient Red Bulls were suddenly down to 10 men.
Guardiola, managing his 300th game for Man City, would bring one more substitute on in the 81st minute. Gabriel Jesus came in to relieve Grealish who played perhaps his best match yet in a City shirt. The moved paid off quickly, as in the 85th minute, Gabby was there to clean up the rebound from a Foden corner that was redirected back toward goal by Cancelo, then off Aké, and finally deflected away from Rúben Dias right to Jesus for the easy finish.
City were able to easily see the game out after that. Their win, coupled with a surprise draw between Club Brugge and Paris Saint-Germain in the other Group A match, have Pep’s boys sitting top of the group. A trip to Paris is next in the UCL, and a defeat of Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr., and Kylian Mbappe would give City a serious head start on their way to the knockout rounds.