5 Things We Learned: Manchester City 2-1 Borussia Dortmund (UEFA Champions League)
Manchester City continued their unbeaten start to the new season with a 2-1 victory at the Etihad Stadium against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday night.
As Jude Bellingham headed home the visitors’ opener on a night when the hosts were far from the best versions of themselves, it seemed like a defeat was perhaps inevitable.
However, this Manchester City side never backed down and got back into the contest thanks to a belter of a strike from John Stones – arguably the most improbable source for an equaliser in the most uncharacteristic fashion in the 80th minute.
Just four minutes later, a switch in momentum in City’s favour led Joao Cancelo to pull off an impeccable outside-of-the-boot cross for the inevitable Erling Haaland, who scored the winner with a near-impossible acrobatic finish against his former side.
While the Premier League champions were largely unimpressive on the night, their resilience came to the fore as they pulled off yet another excellent comeback this term.
In a contest that left us with a number of talking points, here are the five things we learned!
Erling Haaland is the definition of clutch
As Manchester City were uncharacteristically laboured for the majority of the night – especially going forward – Erling Haaland was an isolated man up front.
Unlike the majority of strikers that tend to get frustrated and decide to take hopeful potshots in some games, the Norwegian international stayed on the periphery of things, as he lurked inside the opposition box for any sign of danger.
One wondrous trivela cross later – courtesy of Joao Cancelo – and the 22-year-old striker miraculously converted via an acrobatic effort to emerge as the difference maker yet again.
Whilst one can wax lyrical about a goal for the ages, perhaps another talking point is how Erling Haaland’s strikes for Manchester City are always game-changers.
The youngster’s hat-trick against Crystal Palace stands out as his finest body of work in terms of dragging his new side to victory from a losing position, but every goal he has scored so far has either been an opener, an equaliser, or a winner.
Erling Haaland doesn’t just score tons of goals for Manchester City, he scores them when his individual brilliance is demanded the most, which is what separates the great players from the good ones.
Erling Haaland for Manchester City.
That Joao Cancelo assist
In all honesty, Joao Cancelo – much like several of his teammates – was having somewhat of an off night.
Barring a handful of impeccable showreels of his fleet-footedness, the Portuguese defender was wasteful in possession as a whole, with many secretly aching for the balance of a certain Oleksandr Zinchenko to return on the left-hand side.
However, the one trait about Joao Cancelo that most certainly deserves its flowers is that he never gets bogged down and fearlessly tries to make things happen – and thankfully for arguably the best full-back in Europe, he has the technical brilliance to back his hit-and-trial ways.
Much like the great Luka Modric, Manchester City’s Joao Cancelo is making the trivela technique his signature party trick, as he pulled it out of the bag to set up Erling Haaland’s spectacular winner in the 84th minute.
To execute the outside-the-boot cross is a tall task for most, but to do so at a time where Manchester City were in desperate need for a moment of individual brilliance just emphasises the calibre of footballer the 28-year-old truly is.
John Stones did his best Vincent Kompany impression
In 2019, each and every Manchester City fan echoed Sergio Agüero’s unwillingness to see Vincent Kompany go for goal from outside the box against Leicester City.
In 2022, the same was the case with John Stones against Borussia Dortmund.
In both instances, the centre-back dispatched strikes one would never associate with any in the history of the game to do the business for the Sky Blues.
While Kompany’s strike was perhaps a lot purer, more significant, and left Kasper Schmeichel with not a chance in hell of stopping the inevitable, the same cannot be said for Stones’ screamer.
However, the ‘Barnsley Beckenbauer’ took the onus on himself and made something happen out of nothing when his side demanded a hero, which merits his strike being mentioned in the same breath as the legendary Manchester City skipper’s effort.
If that isn’t a compliment to John Stones, what is?
Riyad Mahrez and Jack Grealish should never start together
The key to picking a set of wingers is assessing the balance of profiles at play.
Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling as Manchester City’s wide players during the 2018/19 season exemplified this very sentiment, with the former being a ball-to-feet wide-man and the latter being a more direct option, capable of running in behind the defence.
The combination of Riyad Mahrez and Jack Grealish is the very anthesis of this balance and un-coincidentally, City tend to usually drop points when the pair are on the same pitch from the off.
What both wingers share in common is a lack of decisiveness, both in terms of their overall game and their decision making.
As Pep Guardiola touched on the importance of knowing when to execute each action above everything else in his pre-match press conference, the statement especially applies to the pair, who fail to realise when to play it safe and when to go for the jugular.
While Mahrez’s risks tended not to come off as his form has inarguably fallen off a cliff over the past couple of months, Grealish’s risk-averse approach added little to nothing to the contest, which has been a theme of his career at City so far.
With a striker as electric as Erling Haaland leading the line, the dearth of injection in both the wide-men’s approaches is a glaring mismatch and especially on a day where Manchester City needed either to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
Despite Phil Foden and Julian Alvarez not producing many noteworthy moments of magic, the decisiveness in their actions and infectious energy was the blueprint, and is what led the charge for Manchester City to pull off yet another stupendous comeback.
As things stand, Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez have a number of boxes to tick in order to justify starts ahead of the aforementioned pair, especially in tandem.
Jack Grealish in Manchester City action against Borussia Dortmund.
Are City comeback kings or papering over the cracks?
The truth lies in both rationales.
First things first, credit needs to be afforded to Pep Guardiola’s troops for coming back from the dead against Newcastle United, Crystal Palace and now, Borussia Dortmund.
Since the side’s storied comeback victory against Aston Villa on the final day of last season, being a part of one of Premier League history’s most iconic fight-backs seems to be a part of this crop’s muscle memory at this point.
For the club’s Champions League dreams in particular, this trait bodes well, as all plans to tend to go out of the window in Europe’s elite competition.
It is as simple a case as; adapt or be extinct in the prestigious tournament and for the time being, Manchester City have done the former.
However, the Sky Blues’ inevitability in such situation has papered over a rather mixed start to the 2022/23 campaign.
Dodgy defensive displays, languid starts to games and questionable individual displays have all been put aside due to Manchester City’s ability to dig deep and pull a miraculous result out of the bag.
To counter this very reality, one must remember that City tend not to kick into gear till the business end of the season and for them to still keep getting over the line is only a sign of how unstoppable they will become when things start fully clicking across the board eventually.