After 45 minutes of complete non-existence, RB Leipzig saved their chances of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League. A goal by central defender Josko Gvardiol saw the fifth-placed Bundesliga player draw 1-1 with Manchester City, which was beyond imagination after the first half – and gives hope for the second leg on March 14 in Manchester. It is questionable whether City will again sin against its own chances, as it did in Leipzig.
It will be a different game, that’s for sure – because the remarkable absences recorded by both sides on Wednesday shouldn’t be repeated in three weeks’ time. Leipzig has had to do without Spanish national player Dani Olmo for a long time, as he is plagued by muscular problems. French striker Christopher Nkunku was able to play again in Wolfsburg on Saturday. But the strain was so high that RB coach Marco Rose initially left him on the bench.
City coach Pep Guardiola, on the other hand, had to do without Kevin De Bruyne and Aymeric Laporte. They weren’t necessary to keep Leipzig in check. And it is doubtful whether they really wanted to experience the RB homage to today’s Austrian national coach Ralf Rangnick, who was honored for his development work in Leipzig before the game started. But she had something: Rangnick was touched by the affection – and made a brief wait in front of the Leipzig supporters’ curve.
A large banner was stretched out there: “We’re on our way to Istanbul” was written there – an allusion to this year’s final venue, in large white letters on a red background. Judging by the performance in the first half, the apodictic message had an almost humorous character. Because Leipzig’s appearance was a single application for spectator tickets. The ball possession of the English, who appeared in a 4-3-3 like out of a picture book, was in the meantime over the 80 percent mark. And it almost seemed like a miracle that, under the eyes of national coach Hansi Flick, there was actually a – harmless – shot on goal by the – equally harmless – national player Timo Werner. When injury time of the first half was almost over.
The game changes fundamentally after the break
Leipzig had obviously agreed that it would not make sense to quarrel with City for the ball. The English let him gyrate incessantly and without any flushing of blood. Grealish and Mahrez revived the pulse of the game, which had been monotonous for a long time, on the wide lanes – they suspected quite correctly that there was oil to be found in the fields of Halstenberg and Klostermann. But the goal fell through the middle, after a bad pass from Xaver Schlager, which Grealish intercepted. The English striker put the ball through in the center, city captain Ilkay Gündogan spread his legs there, duped defender Josko Gvardiol – and cleared the way for Mahrez. The Algerian had no trouble taking the lead (27′). RB goalkeeper Janis Blaswich looked so rigid as if he had forgotten to stretch his pelvis while warming up. The fact that City didn’t lead higher had to do with the fact that a few standards flew past the goal, the deep opponent didn’t tempt them to do more – and City’s midfielders had problems interpreting Erling Haaland’s movements.
The game changed fundamentally after the break – with Benjamin Henrichs coming on for Lukas Klostermann and, presumably, with an appeal to the team’s self-esteem. Henrichs had two chances to equalize, once City goalkeeper Éderson intercepted a cross from Werner in front of Emil Forsberg’s feet, later he threw himself in front of André Silva’s feet. City were so out of control of the game that Rose saw the time to bring Nkunku on for Forsberg in the 66th minute. A formidable long-range shot by Dominik Szoboszlai was repelled by Éderson for a corner – she equalized. After a cross from Halstenberg, Gvardiol jumped in the six-yard box like Cristiano Ronaldo at his best and nodded the ball.
The goal unleashed such power that even goalkeeper Blaswich showed a brilliant action. When Gündogan shot, he dived brilliantly and parried in the same way. The game tumbled under the impression of a late change from Rose. Yussuf Poulsen and Amadou Haidara came on for André Silva and Xaver Schlager, and in the end David Raum was also able to replace his national team colleague Halstenberg. But that didn’t change the fact that the decision on the quarter-finals in Manchester was made.