Three Points: Bayern Munich vs. Manchester City
Three observations from Bayern Munich's 1-0 Champions League group stage victory over Manchester City at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday.
1. City's night turns sour
So near and yet so far. For 88 minutes, it was a satisfactory evening for Manchester City. Then it became a fruitless one as Jerome Boateng condemned his former team to defeat, with the aid of a deflection off Mario Gotze. Boateng's strike, coupled with Roma's thrashing of CSKA Moscow, means the Premier League champions face another battle to qualify for the last 16, let alone make a long-awaited breakthrough and win the competition.
There is no shame in losing to Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. Most teams do. The question is whether City are equipped to fare any better over the course of a Champions League campaign. The suggestion that they are ready to conquer Europe look optimistic, on this evidence, but they aren't as naive as they were in some previous continental clashes.
Gone was the 4-4-2 formation that left City outnumbered in midfield. They played with patience and showed their experience. Yet while Sergio Aguero almost equalised at the death and City had a strong case for a penalty when debutant Mehdi Benatia caught David Silva, City didn't really trouble Bayern.
Predictably, the German champions had more possession and exerted more pressure.
Even with a weakened team, Bayern looked the classier outfit, with only Silva of City's flair players living up to his reputation. Yaya Toure's subdued start to the season continued, and defensively he was the weaker link of the central midfield duo. Fernandinho was energetic but the injured Fernando was missed. James Milner was unfortunate not to start, given both his big-game record and man-of-the-match performance when City won at the Allianz Arena last December, and he came on to shore up the midfield, a task he performed admirably.
Indeed, the solid citizens of the side fared better than the supposed stars. Bacary Sagna was defiant in just his second appearance for his new club as he ensured the suspended Pablo Zabaleta was not missed. The wide midfielders, initially Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri and later Silva, fared less well at their defensive duties. Finding an appropriate balance between defence and attack remains an issue for City.
2. Hart's stops may save his place
It wasn't revenge, but it might have been a measure of redemption.
Last season, Joe Hart lost his place at the beginning of November after an awful autumn. Premier League errors against Cardiff, Aston Villa and Chelsea hardly helped his cause, but arguably the most chastening game of all came when Bayern visited the Etihad Stadium and he was culpable for two of their three goals.
This time he was blameless, as the deflected winner flew past him, but the margins between hero and villain remain thin. A reunion began badly, when Thomas Muller darted past him after 40 seconds only to shoot into the side-netting. Later on, Hart spilled Rafinha's shot into the path of the World Cup winner, who was ruled offside. It could have been a costly blunder. In between, there were signs of a renaissance. Muller's thumping header seemed a certain goal. Instead, Hart made a brilliant reflex save. He proved reliable again when he made a sharp save on David Alaba's half-volley, stopped Robert Lewandowski when he seemed certain to score, and denied former teammate Boateng one goal, though Hart was helpless when the German did provide the match winner.
Yet Hart's display was timely. The feeling is that summer signing Willy Caballero, manager Manuel Pellegrini's first-choice goalkeeper at Malaga, will be granted a chance at some stage. Hart was partly at fault when Mame Biram Diouf scored for Stoke in August; some, somewhat harshly, faulted him when Jack Wilshere chipped Arsenal ahead at the weekend. This defeat was not Hart's fault.
3. Guardiola appear to outwit City
Manager Pep Guardiola seemed to view it less as a problem than an opportunity. Bayern were without their premier wingers -- Franck Ribery was out and Arjen Robben was deemed fit enough only to be a substitute -- and were missing three high-class central midfielders, the injured trio of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara.
For City, it seemed the best possible time to play them. For Guardiola, it amounted to a chance to experiment. Managers are often at their most inventive when key players are missing, and the Catalan is no stranger to left-field moves even when everyone is available.
He began with a back three, to the surprise of some. After half an hour, he swapped to 4-2-3-1, with the same personnel. A total football ethos means he wants players capable of operating in other positions.
Alaba was the most extreme example, going from centre-back to a No. 10. He almost scored within a minute of being pushed further forward, in which case Guardiola would have deserved the assist. He also needs players with the intelligence to adapt, and Muller was a threat wherever he was deployed. With a quarter of an hour remaining, Guardiola played his wild card and sent for the semi-fit Robben. Finally, he turned to Claudio Pizarro, giving his side a second striker and sending Philipp Lahm to right-back.
Guardiola's systemic switches were a fine way of confounding his opponents. Pellegrini does not change his tactics as often and, with the City manager serving a touchline ban, longtime assistant Ruben Cousillas was in charge of all match alterations.
Nevertheless, Cousillas acquitted himself well, with the introduction of Milner, in particular, stemming the tide when Bayern were on top, but attacking intent eventually brought its reward. Guardiola never ran out of ideas, but the irony was that the goal came from Boateng, one of the few the manager did not move around in his search for a breakthrough.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.