By James Ducker in Leipzig
The RB Leipzig supporters unfurled a banner before kick-off that read “We’re on the way to Istanbul”. Unless there is a marked improvement from Manchester City in the second leg of this last-16 tie next month, Pep Guardiola may be kissing goodbye to that dream this season.
After a first half in which City led courtesy of Riyad Mahrez’s goal, the Premier League champions fell away alarmingly after the interval and, by the end, were probably relieved to get out of Germany with a draw. At the final whistle, Guardiola had his players in a huddle on the pitch. What he was telling them was unclear but, on the evidence of an impoverished second half, it would not be a surprise if there were a few choice words.
Ilkay Gundogan had a chance to win it when his low shot was palmed away in the 74th minute but it would have flattered them. Leipzig’s equaliser came from the formidable presence of Josko Gvardiol, who rose to power home a header after an evening in which he had kept Erling Haaland in his pocket. It is easy to see why much of Europe covets the Croatia defender but even he could probably not have believed how easy he would have it against Haaland, who spent much of the game in a state of isolation.
City have kept only four clean sheets in 15 matches now since the World Cup and Guardiola will be concerned about just how ragged they looked defensively in that second half against Leipzig.
Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool had all lost their respective first-leg ties so it was over to City to ensure the Premier League, Europe’s richest, most powerful division, did not suffer a complete “half-time” wipe out.
The Champions League knockout stages are where Guardiola usually does most of his tinkering but not on this occasion. Having been experimenting in recent months with a 3-2-4-1 formation in the Premier League, City were back in a more familiar 4-3-3 here, albeit without Kevin De Bruyne, who was absent through illness. For 45 minutes at least, he was not missed. City were in complete control with Leipzig kept at a safe distance.
We have seen this drill before: City playing keep-ball, squeezing and stretching the opposition, biding their time and then pouncing at the first glimpse of an opening. That came after 27 minutes when Xaver Schlager received the ball from his goalkeeper just beyond the D and then mislaid his pass. Big mistake.
Jack Grealish intercepted and poked the ball to Gundogan, who, with his back to goal and Gvardiol breathing down his neck, let it through his legs. The movement was enough to deceive Gvardiol, allowing Mahrez to run on to the ball and sweep it nonchalantly into the corner for his 11th goal in 19 matches.
The control City had exerted began to evaporate after the restart, though, and any notion of this proving a straightforward night’s work was soon dispelled. From being organised and untroubled, City badly lost their shape, Leipzig rose from their slumber and suddenly we had a game.
City’s right side looked particularly vulnerable, where Manuel Akanji was having a tough time of it, to such an extent that Guardiola ended up switching Ruben Dias to that side next to Kyle Walker to try to stymie the damage being caused by Timo Werner and Andre Silva’s clever running and movement.
Marco Rose, the Leipzig manager, made just one change at the interval, replacing one right-back with another in Benjamin Henrichs, and it was effective. The substitute headed narrowly over from a cross and then, two minutes later, squandered an excellent chance to equalise. The hosts moved the ball slickly and swiftly from left to right via Emil Forsberg and Dominik Szoboszlai to Henrich, who shot wide of the far post with City undone.
So it continued, Werner having Akanji scrambling and then Silva turning the City defender inside out only to be smothered by Ederson as he tried to scoop the ball over the goalkeeper. Eventually, though, the sheer weight of pressure told and, after Szoboszlai had a shot turned over, Leipzig scored from the resulting corner.
It was played short to Marcel Halstenberg and from his cross the superb Gvardiol powered over Dias to thump a header beyond Ederson. It was no less than Leipzig deserved. They were missing the injured Dani Olmo, while the Chelsea-bound Christopher Nkunku was fit enough only to play the final 25 minutes, but they were rewarded for their bravery.
City looked horribly out of sorts, and none more so than Haaland, who cut an isolated, unhappy figure. On the one occasion he was released in behind and able to open those giant legs of his and get away from Gvardiol’s attentions, he shot unconvincingly across goal and out.
It was certainly hard to marry that striker with the one who could not miss earlier in the season. He would be right to complain about the lack of service – City, at times, seemed to forget he was even there – but whereas Gvardiol shadowed Haaland with a feverish relish, this was one of the Norwegian’s most disappointing nights in City blue.
Man City frustrated in game of two-halves: as it happened
Guardiola on his on-pitch huddle after the game
They were heads down. I said why are you heads down, be heads up, it was really good the way you play. If people don’t like it it doesn’t matter.
Marco Rose on his team’s improved performance
We should start to play and to fight. A really difficult first half, too passive in every situation. They moved the ball, they moved us. We had no power when we won the ball.
Second half was back on our usual level. Better late than never.
Peter Walton on BT Sport
He says that his monitor in the studio has told him City’s appeal was NOT checked by Var.
He does caveat that to say there may be another angle that shows it struck Henrich’s shoulder.
But on the replays we can see, he agrees City should have had a penalty.
Guardiola thinks people may be under-estimating this result
They make a step forward, they press higher, and we have problems to make the build up.
We concede the goal, and after that we play well and create more chances
What do you expect? We play a friendly game here? How many games have you seen of Leipzig? People expect us to come here and win 0-5?
Guardiola took a leaf out of Phil Brown’s book
Man City had a mini-team talk on the pitch at full time.
About that City handball appeal…
It was so late in the day we did not get a replay before the end of the game, but watching it back now it seems City have a case. Henrichs almost punches the ball with his hands at chest-height.
No subs from Guardiola
FT: RB Leipzig 1 Man City 1
City remain favourites, but that second half was a tad disappointing. It felt like they had the chance to finish the tie tonight after one of the most one-sided away halves you will ever see.
Maybe that does not give RB Leipzig enough credit for turning the tide after the break. Marco Rose’s half-time change was effective and Ederson was the busier goalkeeper.
Overall, an acceptable result for City but the tie is in the balance. You expect them to progress, but Leipzig have enough threat to make it nervy in the second leg. Nkunku should be fit to start at the Etihad.
92 minutes: RB Leipzig 1 Man City 1
City might just have one last chance! Mahrez carries enough of a threat to earn a corner in the dying seconds. Mahrez goes across to take an inswinger from the right.
Some City appeals for a penalty for handball after Leipzig won the first header, but nothing doing.
Two minutes of added time
Can either side find the winner? It does not feel like a third goal is on the way.
89 minutes: RB Leipzig 1 Man City 1
Henrichs, who has made a real difference for Leipzig since coming on at half-time, is booked for a late challenge of Gundogan. The game is ticking towards stoppage time.
87 minutes: RB Leipzig 1 Man City 1
City working the ball across the pitch patiently, trying to find the space to fashion one last chance. Leipzig’s defensive shape behind the ball is good. Guardiola has not really tried to change things, no subs from the City manager.
85 minutes: RB Leipzig 1 Man City 1
Walker with a mis-hit volley that Nkunku pounces on. Leipzig keep the attack alive and stand up a dangerous cross to the back post, but City scramble it away. Grealish then does really well to dribble upfield as a release valve and win a foul.
83 minutes: RB Leipzig 1 Man City 1
Leipzig’s turn to keep possession, and Halstenberg wins them a free-kick just beyond halfway. Walker penalised for a loose arm in an aerial challenge. Are both teams starting to settle for this result?
81 minutes: RB Leipzig 1 Man City 1
Nkunku goes down looking for a foul against Mahrez but is only awarded a throw-in. Haidara and Poulsen are coming on for Leipzig, replacing Schlager and Silva. Poulsen is Leipzig’s record-appearance holder and played for the club in the third tier of German football. Could he be the hero tonight?
79 minutes: RB Leipzig 1 Man City 1
Nice move from City but they try to be a little too intricate around the box. Lovely flick from Gundogan but Bernardo’s strike from the edge of the area is charged down. In the old days of away goals, this scoreline would have been more positive for City.
76 minutes: RB Leipzig 1 Man City 1
City have responded well to conceding, getting on the ball again and looking to take the initiative in the game. They sank a little too deep at the start of the half, but some of that was down to Leipzig remembering they are a football team.
74 minutes: RB Leipzig 1 Man City 1
Big, big save from Blaswich! Gundogan met a low cross from Grealish with a sweeping, left-footed shot that looked destined for the far corner, but Leipzig’s back-up ‘keeper was down sharply. Brilliant stop.
72 minutes: RB Leipzig 1 Man City 1
The first half was like a training session, but City might take getting this back to the Etihad at 1-1 now. Ederson had made three good saves before the equaliser, the warning signs were there.
GOOOOOAAAALLL! Leipzig are level
City caught out by a short corner. In came the cross from the left, and Gvardiol climbed above Dias to plant a header past Ederson who was flailing. Some suggestion it may have been a foul, but it was no more than hand on shoulder from the Croatian defender. The corner came from a cracking long-range Szoboszlai strike that Ederson pushed around the post.
Leipzig deserve that.
68 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
Really slick interplay from Leipzig, but Walker produced a superb challenge to stop another one-two in the box.
In a rare sight for City fans, they then release Haaland into space on the counter-attack. He pushes the ball beyond Gvardiol with ease but drags his shot wide of the far post.
That was Haaland’s first touch in the box tonight.
66 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
Nkunku is on for Forsberg. How sharp is Leipzig’s star man having not started a game for them since before the World Cup. He would have been a key member of the France squad in Qatar but for injury, and he has been heavily linked with Chelsea.
65 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
City fans will worry that they are seeing a familiar script unfolding: dominate possession, control the game without scoring goals two and three before being pegged back. Credit to Leipzig, who have lifted their levels. And now Nkunku is coming on…City might just need that second goal.
63 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
It looks like RB Leipzig have changed shape in this second half, with the substitute Henrichs playing like a wing-back on the right.
Another opportunity for Leipzig! It was fantastic skill from Silva to dance past Akanji but Ederson rushed out to him and smothered from a right angle. Could Silva have pulled that back?
61 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
Haaland was spinning into space behind the Leipzig defence, but Gundogan decided against trying the through ball.
Then Werner battles well against Walker to get Leipzig up the pitch. Like his team-mates, the former Chelsea forward has been far more threatening since the break.
58 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
Just after that chance, Ederson had to get down to beat away Werner’s low cross. The home crowd have found their voice and Guardiola is on his feet on the touchline. The temperature of the game is rising. Can City counter-punch?
55 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
Leipzig attacking a lot down their left since the restart, perhaps in attempt to push Walker back.
Oh what a chance for Leipzig! They dragged City to the right and worked the ball across the pitch, and Henrichs was spare on the outside of Ake. He had time to steady himself and line the shot up but his side-foot effort was always drifting wide. Time to think was his enemy there.
53 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
Dancing feet in the Leipzig penalty area from Bernardo Silva, but his backheel towards Mahrez is mis-placed. Szoboszlai really sloppy on the ball, firing a pass straight into the back of Ake.
Then Leipzig produce their best move of the match, with Henrichs free for the header around the penalty spot, but he never got over the ball. That was a touch crisper.
50 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
The referee is having a word with Jack Grealish for kicking the ball away. Moments earlier, Mahrez saw a shot blocked after good work down the left from Ake and Gundogan. City restoring some order in the match.
48 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
Leipzig trying to start with more intensity, and Ederson feels the need to kick long. Leipzig win the second ball, but then the referee gets in the way of the pass. Good pressing from Grealish against Orban.
That’s better from the home team, finding Werner in a narrow position, but Aknaji defends well.
We’re back under way
Can RB Leipzig turn the tide?
RB Leipzig are making a change
Henrichs is coming on for the home team, replacing Klostermann. Marco Rose has sent his players out very early for the second half.
Nkunku was warming up during the break, but they are not prepared to risk his fitness just yet.
Mahrez keeping good company
City have completely nullified their opponents
The most interesting tactical feature of that half was Walker playing high and wide, with Mahrez inside, rather than the full-back inverting and the winger staying high like we usually see with City.
RB Leipzig have done a reasonable job of defending their box, but they have not been able to press nor construct any attacks. They need players brave enough to show for it between the lines, either side of Rodri.
City in complete control, just a question of putting their foot on the pedal.
HT: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
Werner did force Ederson into a save with a tame shot at the end of the half, but this has been easy street for City.
45 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
Werner has barely been involved in this half, and the crowd are on to him for turning away from a possible through ball to Silva. That sums up Leipzig’s very meek showing.
Just one minute of added time to play.
44 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
Leipzig have tried to defend in a more conservative fashion tonight, sitting off and letting City have the ball, and I’m not sure it is working for them. Surely they have to play with more aggression in the second half.
42 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
I’m not sure if Walker is going to last the 90 minutes – this role is requiring him to charge up and down the touchline, and he is a player City cannot afford to lose to injury. This has been like watching Walker in his Tottenham role under Pochettino. Grealish wins another foul.
40 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
That was stunning control for Grealish again to trap an Aknaji diagonal to the left wing. Another corner for City. The home fans sound slightly disinterested at the moment, City have been so superior. From the corner, Rodri’s header loops over the bar.
38 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
The only danger for City is that this game becomes too comfortable. They are easily repelling everything Leipzig have to offer as an attacking force. Some stern words from Rose and the introduction of Nkunku look badly needed.
35 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
Gvardiol tries to grab the game by the scruff on the neck and drive out with the ball from the back, but his long ball at the end of it is aimless. That was a little bit too Heroball from the young defender.
City then work the ball neatly across the Leipzig box, Grealish is in space wide left, but his shot towards the far corner is always rising.
32 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
Grealish takes a kick on the ankle, but is back on his feet and able to continue. Guardiola is talking to Mahrez and Bernardo in animated fashion during the stoppage in play. Schlager puts far too much on his pass forward, and City have it back again.
29 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 1
Kyle Walker heavily involved in another City attack, and he wins another corner.
That was close! Rodri was free at the back post to head across goal, but Haaland was slightly on his heels. City have this tie in their grip at the moment.
GOOOOAAAALLL! Mahrez gives City the lead
They have scored first, so their start now looks patient rather than toothless.
RB Leipzig were architects of their own downfall, with a loose pass on the edge of their defensive third. Grealish pounced, and fed a pass into Mahrez who finished with authority into the bottom corner.
25 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 0
The flag goes up against Mahrez for offside, a rare occasion City have looked for a direct ball forward.
Has this been an impressive City performance or has it been a little too Spain at recent international tournaments?
That will depend on if they score first.
23 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 0
Lovely turn from Bernardo Silva to win a free-kick. City are being very deliberate and measured with their passing. Guardiola spoke before kick-off about how dangerous German teams are on the counter-attack. It’s clear he has told his players to hide the ball from Leipzig, and to avoid forcing risky passes through crowded areas.
21 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 0
City keeping the ball for fun across their defence and in midfield, but in fairness Blaswich is yet to make a save. Guardiola will be pleased with the control his team are exterting but they need more acceleration in the final third.
19 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 0
Rodri with an ill-advised shot from distance that flies over the bar. City’s back-line is once again synchronised to push up and catch and RB Leipzig attacker offside. Dias and Akanji get a thumbs up for Pep Guardiola.
17 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 0
Grealish with a trademark driving run with the ball at his feet to the edge of the D, where he is fouled. Free-kick to Man City in a dangerous position.
Gundogan and Mahrez over it. The former Leicester man takes, but strikes it straight into the wall with his left foot.
14 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 0
Dias got his head to the corner at the near-post, but not enough power to trouble RB Leipzig’s second-choice goalkeeper
RB Leipzig finally get out of their half with a good counter that zig-zagged from left to right, but once again the flag is up for offside against Andre Silva.
12 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 0
City progressing fluently through midfield with Gundogan and Rodri combining, but things slow down around the box at the feet of Mahrez and Grealish.
City’s shape when they attack is a 3-2-5: Akanji, Dias, Ake; Rodri, Bernardo; Walker, Mahrez, Haaland, Gundogan, Grealish
Walker far more advanced than usual, and he has won City a corner with a deflected cross.
9 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 0
City doing an excellent job of killing the atmosphere with a really long sequence of possession in the Leipzig half. When Walker is pushed on, Ake is staying back to make it a back three alongside Dias and Akanji. At times, when City have more secure possession, Ake is moving into more advanced midfield possession.
The flag goes up for offside against Andre Silva who was lurking behind Akanji.
6 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 0
Walker is being asked to play as a more orthodox full-back tonight, which will see him overlap more than usual. On this occasion, he over-runs the ball on a dribble forward. Leipzig are picking their moments to press, led by Forsberg.
Gundogan spreads a lovely ball out to Grealish before Mahrez’s touch in the penalty area let him down.
4 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 0
Rodri pressed off the ball by Laimer, that was poor from the Man City No 6. Andre Silva did not make the most of a promising attacking position. The Rodri makes a timely interception after Leipzig came forward with some intent.
2 minutes: RB Leipzig 0 Man City 0
Lovely touch from Grealish to control a high ball, duck inside and combine with Gundogan. City look to have settled well, keeping the ball on the deck. It looks like RB Leipzig are defending in a narrow 4-2-3-1 out of possession, with Timo Werner on the left. Gundogan then looks for Haaland, but this through ball is too strong.
City get us started, playing in their red and black away strip. Within the first 20 seconds, Walker’s cross towards Haaland is cleared.
The players are out on the pitch…
Some boos for the Champions League anthem, presumably from Leipzig or City fans who abhor all things commercial and artificial…
City’s players preparing for another tilt at the Champions League knockouts
RB Leipzig head coach Marco Rose on the challenge of facing City
It is just a top, top squad with an outstanding coach. I told my lads we will need to suffer.
But we shouldn’t see it as suffering, we should enjoy it. We should be able to close down the free spaces and interrupt the good combination play.
We need to have fun and enjoy defending and winning the ball. Then it’s all about creating chances, taking advantage of certain chances that we can have.
We want to compete with them and want to prove we also have a good team, with good players that can play at the top level. I see ourselves well prepared and there is great anticipation.
Has Haaland made City worse?
I’m not so sure it’s that simple, but I don’t know why pundits keep quoting his goal tally to rubbish the question. They are using an individual achievement to shut down a question about a team. He’s not a golfer collecting majors, he is there to help his team win.
Guardiola on the clash of styles
Always we defend in a back four. Different players because Laporte and De Bruyne are not here. We pick this line up, nothing special.
They play with all the players inside, runners in the channels, typical of Red Bull teams everywhere.
I was here in Germany for three years, if you lose the ball in certain positions, if you let them run in transitions they are unstoppable.
Is this City’s time?
Pep Guardiola has the Champions League highest win percentage of any manager with more than 50 games in the competition, but has not lifted the trophy since 2011. He has never won the Champions League without Lionel Messi, nor with Man City.
There is a theory that more individualistic teams, such as Real Madrid, are more suited to knockout ties than a forensically coached, patterned team like City.
Jack Grealish looking rather peaky this evening
The team news analysed
It looks like RB Leipzig are lining up in the 4-2-2-2 system the Red Bull group is known for. When executed well, it can be very challenging to play through with so many central numbers. Nkunku came on off the bench against Wolfsburg on Saturday in the 85th minute, and is fit enough for the bench.
City have gone with their most robust defensive back four in the absence of Stones, with Walker and Ake either side of Dias and Akanji. I do think that costs City some variety and ball progression when they build up though – neither Walker nor Ake can step inside next to Rodri like Rico Lewis, Cancelo or Zinchenko can. It might mean City build up in a more orthodox – 4-1 shape rather than the 3-2 we have grown accustomed to.
Mahrez, Haaland and Grealish are Guardiola’s go-to front three in big games.
The two starting XIs
Haaland has form against Leipzig
Erling Haaland has played against RB Leipzig four times and has scored six. If you’re good at maths, you’ll know that works out as a goal every 60 minutes on average.
We should be in for goals
These two teams played in last season’s Champions League group stage, and the games produced 12 goals with City winning 6-3 in Manchester and RB Leipzig winning a dead rubber 2-1 at home.
A familiar foe for City
Timo Werner is expected to start for RB Leipzig tonight. Things did not work out for the striker at Chelsea (things so often fail to work out for strikers at Chelsea), but he did excel against Man City in the 2021 Champions League final. His pace and movement stressed City’s defence that night, and helped ensure Chelsea were always a threat on the break. It was Werner’s stretching run in the left channel that created space for Kai Havertz’s winning goal.
Pep Guardiola: Destiny has already decided City’s Champions League fate
By James Ducker, Northern Football Correspondent
This season has given rise to varying shades of Pep Guardiola. There has been relaxed Pep, emotional Pep, agitated Pep, defiant Pep and here, on the eve of his latest stab at Champions League glory with Manchester City, we got philosophical Pep.
“At the end, destiny is already written,” the City manager mused ahead of the first leg of his side’s round-of-16 tie against RB Leipzig in Saxony.
“Sometimes we have been close [to winning it], sometimes not. I have the feeling that what we have done, all of us, is going to fail.
“Whatever I have done personally in the past or in the future, I am going to fail. Nothing will be enough. So when I learnt that … just have fun, enjoy being in this press conference, then after a nice dinner with good wine and watch [Real] Madrid and Liverpool and a little bit of Napoli, prepare well for the game and let’s go guys, let’s try to do it again.”
It was only nine weeks ago that Guardiola, unprompted, admitted before a Carabao Cup tie against Liverpool that the Champions League was “the trophy we want” and that his period at City “will not be complete if we don’t win it”. But, whether he was trying to deflect some of the pressure off his players or has genuinely resolved that there is no point getting too hung up about it all, Guardiola certainly sought to project an air of calm and serenity before the resumption of another quest to be reacquainted with the cup with big ears, 12 years after his last triumph in the competition.
“Everyone puts a perspective that everything is a disaster if you don’t win some prizes,” he said. “I don’t want to put that perspective on myself because I’m blessed to be here. I never thought when I arrived we have to win every year the Premier League or three or four Champions Leagues.
“Except Real Madrid, the rest cannot do it! We just try to do what we’ve done, because in the last two seasons we’ve been really close and played really good games, and try to do it again.”
If City are to overcome Leipzig en route to immortality in Istanbul on June 10, they will have to navigate the first leg without their midfield talisman Kevin De Bruyne, who, like centre-half Aymeric Laporte, has not made the trip due to illness. It could open the door for a rare foray in midfield for Phil Foden, whose season is in desperate need of a spark, but Guardiola has warned his players to expect a far tougher assignment than many are predicting.
Marco Rose, who managed City’s top scorer Erling Haaland at both Red Bull Salzburg and Borussia Dortmund, will be without the injured Dani Olmo, and another star attacker, Christopher Nkunku, is only likely to be fit enough for a place on the bench.