Returning to his former stomping ground without a shred of sentiment, Pep Guardiola leads his Manchester City team out for the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final with Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday night.
The Premier League champions board their flight to Germany with a 3-0 advantage under their belts from last week’s first leg, where Thomas Tuchel’s Bavarian baptism of fire continued.
The action on the field at the Etihad Stadium was striking enough without Sadio Mane allegedly striking Leroy Sane in the face after the final whistle, as a faltering Bayern Munich side were served a slice of humble pie to leave their continental dreams hanging by the thinnest of threads.
A first-half Rodri stunner preceded Bernardo Silva’s header and an obligatory goal for Erling Braut Haaland in a Manchester mauling, although a besotted Tuchel bizarrely claimed that he “fell in love” with his team, but there was no such infatuation from the ex-Chelsea boss at the weekend.
Letting a slender lead slip to draw 1-1 with Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga, where Andrej Kramaric cancelled out a Benjamin Pavard effort, Bayern hold just a two-point lead over Tuchel’s former club Borussia Dortmund atop the standings, and the Star of the South could very well end a season of transition with just the DFL-Supercup to their name.
So far, the board’s brash decision to part ways with Julian Nagelsmann has not been vindicated, as Tuchel has won just two of his first five games at the helm, and Bayern have just one clean sheet to show from their last seven matches – not a reassuring statistic before facing Haaland and co, and neither is a two-game winless run at the Allianz Arena.
However, it has been over three years since the hosts failed to score in a competitive fixture at the Allianz Arena – drawing 0-0 with RB Leipzig in February 2020 – but only four teams have ever progressed from a Champions League knockout tie when losing the first leg by three goals or more, and none since Liverpool’s infamous Barcelona comeback of 2019.
Another day, another page in the history books for Scandinavian sensation Haaland, who continues to delight his manager and fantasy football managers across the land during the Citizens’ remarkable end-of-season winning streak.
Following a sublime opener from John Stones against Leicester City, Haaland netted Premier League goal number 31 and 32 – equalling Mohamed Salah’s record for the most in a 38-game season – before ex-Man City striker Kelechi Iheanacho gave the forlorn away fans something to cheer.
The dying embers of that 3-1 win were far from comfortable for Man City, but thanks to Arsenal letting successive 2-0 leads slip, the champions are right back in the thick of things in the Premier League, sitting four points off the Gunners with a game in hand.
Guardiola’s sky blue juggernaut is in full swing, with Man City travelling to the Allianz Arena on the back of their 10th successive win across all competitions – going unbeaten in their last 14 – and they have netted at least three goals in each of their last six fixtures.
However, Man City notably failed to win any of their away games in this season’s Champions League group stage against Dortmund, Copenhagen and RB Leipzig – drawing all three – but a stalemate would be satisfactory here, even if Guardiola is pining for a 100th Champions League victory as a manager; a feat only achieved by Carlo Ancelotti and Sir Alex Ferguson.
Following a disagreement on the Etihad pitch, attacking duo Mane and Sane were involved in an astonishing dressing room bust-up – where the former purportedly left his teammate with a swollen lip from a punch – and he was dropped from the squad to face Hoffenheim at the weekend.
However, Tuchel has confirmed that the Senegal international will return to the squad for the second leg, which is more than can be said for long-term absentees Manuel Neuer (leg) and Lucas Hernandez (ACL), while youngsters Paul Wanner (jaw) and Gabriel Marusic (ACL) are out of contention too.
On a more positive note, striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting – an unlikely success story with 17 goals this season – is back in training following a knee injury, but it remains to be seen if he will be given the green light to start the second leg.
Regarding the travelling contingent, Guardiola has surprisingly been able to welcome Phil Foden back from appendix surgery for the journey to the Allianz Arena, and he will take a place on the bench here.
Having seen his players put Leicester to the sword before the half-time whistle blew, Guardiola once again denied Haaland a hat-trick by bringing him off at half time, while Stones, Rodri and Kevin De Bruyne were also brought off early doors in anticipation for the second leg.
With 11 continental goals to his name so far, one more strike for Haaland on Wednesday would draw him level with Ruud van Nistelrooy for the most Champions League goals in a single campaign by a Premier League player – the Dutchman netted 12 for Manchester United in 2002-03.
Bayern Munich possible starting lineup:
Sommer; Pavard, Upamecano, De Ligt, Davies; Kimmich, Goretzka; Sane, Musiala, Coman; Choupo-Moting
Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Akanji, Dias, Ake; Stones, Rodri; Silva, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Grealish; Haaland