Jerome Boateng scored a late goal to give Bayern Munich a 1-0 win on Wednesday night over Manchester City — and break his former employer’s hearts in the process. The win for the Bavarian giants was hardly undeserved — but after a stellar show from Joe Hart inbetween the City posts and a dogged performance for nearly 90 minutes, Boateng’s late goal was a cruel one indeed.
Boateng of course famously washed out at City, appearing in just 16 games for the club before being shipped to Germany after two freak accidents — one involving an airline drinks cart — that left him with serious knee damage. But he has always been a quality player and he was the man on the spot when City’s rearguard action finally collapsed on Wednesday night.
Collecting a rebound from Claudio Pizzaro’s attempt at the top of the box wide left, Boateng settled and then lashed a drive that grazed the back of teammate Mario Goetze, spinning away from Hart at full stretch to fluff the net at the far post. The play had started when City, for once, had failed to clear the danger off a set piece, and with the ball bouncing madly about, Lewandowski’s awareness was enough to create the chance. Boateng’s finish, it must be said, was exquisite.
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It is a curio that Roma are actually leading Group E after they pasted CSKA Moscow 5-1 as neither of those teams are up to the class shown on Wednesday night. Manchester City are in third, with Bayern just above them in second on goal difference.
If we’re honest, this was always Bayern’s game to lose. Now, Bayern had a lot of absentees; Bastian Schweinsteiger and Franck Ribery were looking on in street clothes, and Arjen Robben was reduced to the bench with a knee ailment. One Citizen was also reduced to watching from the director’s boxes: Manuel Pellegrini was serving the second of his two-game suspension for criticizing the referee after City’s loss to Barcelona last season. But if the Bavarians were missing and firepower, they certainly didn’t show it, with Thomas Muller almost scoring off the kickoff when Goetze slipped him through. His shot would hit side net — a recurring theme in the half for Bayern — but it was a real wakeup call for City, and a taste of what was yet to come: Unrelenting pressure
In short order, Muller would then force a fine, one-handed save from Joe Hart in the 20th minute, ghosting into space to meet Juan Bernat’s service. On the ensuing corner, Goetze would get a shot off that was well-saved by Hart, but not until it took a big deflection off the elbow of Vincent Kompany. Bayern were incensed that Spanish referee Alberto Mallenco didn’t point to the spot, but he would manage a generally hands-off game that consistently let plays develop.
City’s forays were rare, but when they came, they had a bit of bite. Edin Dzeko was allowed time and space and sent his shot whizzing across the face of Manuel Neuer’s goal, just missing the far post.
But the problem was that Fernandinho and Yaya Toure were unable to truly come to grips with Bayern’s swarming formation. With Josep Guardiola showing three at the back and then rotating his squad to overload the flanks, too often City’s fulcrums were left exposed and wanting.
David Alaba would prove the point as he motored all the way upfield to force not one but two smart saves out of Hart virtually unimpeded. And Robert Lewandowski, who has been quieter than expected since his move to Bayern, was unlucky to be flagged offside at least once, and even unluckier to shoot a good chance late in the half into the side net.
The second half saw the ineffective Samir Nasri yanked for James Milner, and City gradually grow into the game. But City’s midfield was overwhelmed so often that you had to feel a goal was coming sooner than later. Except, well, it didn’t, and as time ticked off you did start to wonder if the Sky Blues actually might escape Germany with a point.
Hart was kept quite busy, diving here and there to stop Goetze and Muller, and Boateng before he scored; City’s only real chance came when it appeared that David Silva had been chopped down by Mehdi Benatia in a clumsy fashion in the box. The referee took a hard look at it, but then waved play on. He would do the same when substitute Arjen Robben dove rather theatrically, but the difference there was that Robben hadn’t even been touched, and has a reputation that precedes him.
While City will now leave wondering what might have been, they can take some solace in the fact that they didn’t look wholly out of place. In seasons past, City have looked like a child tossed in the deep end when it comes to Europe, and while they still badly lack the grit and experience to thrive here, they held their own for much of the match. How much Boateng’s goal meant to Bayern could be seen in Guardiola’s frantic celebrations — nearly strangling his own man on the sideline.
Of course, the Bayern point of view will be that a depleted, banged-up side got the home win they needed against their toughest opponent in a tough group. And they are correct there as well. We’ll see what happens now in the return leg, for on the evidence on Wednesday, that game should also intrigue.