BEVERLY HILLS, April 06, (THEWILL) – When Borussia Dortmund equalised against Manchester City in City’s home first leg quarter-final tie of the UEFA Champions League, City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola must have wondered if it was going to be the prelude to another exit at the same stage of the competition for another year running and why this had become his ill fortune.
Guardiola’s charges went into the fixture with the confidence of having won 26 of their last 27 matches. It was supposed to be enough wherewithal to banish the omens of this round of the competition where they have fallen in each of the past three seasons. But, their performance of the day did not reflect their better games. Instead it was oddly similar to the error-strewn derby defeat to Manchester United, their only loss in 27.
Gone was the authority with which the domestic English Premier League “Champions-Elect” handled their comfortable win against Leicester at the weekend. Instead, Guardiola was left ash-faced as the lack of a clinical edge allowed clear-cut chances to go unutilised.
In the end, however, Guardiola could heave a cautious sigh of relief as his side will approach the return fixture of the quarter-final with his team in front. Cautious because, the tactician that Guardiola is, will recognise that not only is there still so much more to play for especially as Dortmund grabbed an all-important away goal, but also that the team must surmount the obstacle that limits them from producing their best form on such occasions as they often do otherwise.
The perfect example of this is the performance of the team’s young but rising talent Phil Foden. His immense giftedness is not in doubt and very often he has supplied the play and the goals that have made the difference in City’s unprecedented drive for a quadruple and he produced a man of the match display on Tuesday to give City the three points and first leg advantage of the quarter-finals.
Yet, it could very well have not been so. Two other golden opportunities he failed to convert could easily have given him a hattrick and presented Dortmund with an even more difficult obstacle to overcome in the other leg. On a good day, Foden could bury those chances with his eyes closed.
It will be Guardiola’s job to bring the team’s mental balance to the point where they perform in these latter stages of the UCL, the way they do everywhere else.
However, the fact that the 20-year-old Foden persevered to flip the script was in keeping with his all-action performance. His talented display saw him craft five shots with three on target , which was more than any other City player managed.
The visitors caused City plenty of problems all through the match while keeping things reasonably solid at the back and transitioning with impressive efficiency into attack the moment an opportunity opened up to get numbers into attacking positions and disturb the City backline where Ruben Dias was having more than a handful of problems keeping a striking force of nature like Dortmund’s Erling Haaland under check.
Teenage midfielder for Dortmund, Jude Bellingham, impressed in the middle of the park in ways belying his 17-year-old self to cause the hosts more headache than any other team had been able to do so far.
Before Reus scored, Haaland, who did not have much to work with to make a difference, very nearly made something out of nothing with the singular chance that fell his way in the second half, but for the straying leg of City keeper, Ederson Moraes, that kept it out. But, he was able to supply Reus the ball to deliver the goods and draw level.
The signs are ominous for Guardiola, even with their slight win. If they are not at their most fluid best when both sides clash again next week, Dortmund has what it takes to hand Guardiola’s side another quarter-final exit and grind their quadruple aspirations to dust to frustrate an increasingly bedevilled Guardiola even more.