Kevin De Bruyne the hero as Man City sneak a late 2-1 win over Sevilla
MANCHESTER, England -- Three points from the Etihad as Man City pulled off a dramatic, late 2-1 win over Sevilla in Champions League action ...
1. De Bruyne smashes late winner
It seemed as if Manchester City were facing the hard way, staring down the prospect of negotiating tough trips to Seville and Turin to have a chance of qualifying for the knockouts. A home draw on Wednesday night would not have nearly been enough. But then came a combination of old and new, as Kevin De Bruyne's injury-time winner was created for him by the golden vision of Yaya Toure.
Regardless of the reports, Toure did not play like someone disaffected with life in Manchester. He might be "disgusted" with the British media for not giving him enough credit, but even his harshest critic could not deny that he was always his team's best route to salvation.
An ability to marry power with delicacy is what has made the Ivorian one of English football's finest of the past decade, and Wednesday's 2-1 win was one of Toure's better performances in the Champions League, where he has rarely excelled after winning the competition as a temporary centre-back with Barcelona in 2009. These days his work is as attacking force, since he is not entirely dedicated to his defensive duties, which places a greater onus on partner Fernandinho and the centre-backs behind him. Toure's irresistible power is instead catapulted forward into the heart of opposing defences.
When City's defenders were clearing their lines as Sevilla pushed for their own late winner, Toure lay in wait for the counter and his pass put De Bruyne through on the right. The Belgian, whose contribution had been mixed all evening, finished superbly to break spirited Sevilla and put something of a down payment on his £54 million price tag with a vital match-winning goal.
When Toure was in full flight, Sevilla struggled just like many a Premier League club decimated down those years. Until that last and fateful contribution, he had been let down by those around him; striker Wilfried Bony in particular looked utterly overawed by playing in such a high grade of competition.
Raheem Sterling worked hard but could not hit the heights of his weekend maiden hat trick against Bournemouth, failing to reach a late De Bruyne cross that was hit with rather too much zest. City, though, would get one more chance and with it, the door to the last 16 was smashed open by Toure and De Bruyne.
2. Bony struggles again up front
Vincent Kompany's presence on City's bench reflected caution and exasperation from Manuel Pellegrini. The club captain's propensity to suffer muscle injuries is a long-running problem, but his manager is also none too impressed that Kompany played for Belgium in last week's Euro qualifiers.
It meant that the sometimes odd couple of Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi renewed their partnership. Together they cost £74m, but that steep figure doesn't always guarantee safety. Bacary Sagna's start at left-back gave City's defence a makeshift look as Aleksandar Kolarov, who warmed up in prematch with Kompany and sat alongside him on the bench, wouldn't be rushed back from an injury suffered on international duty with Serbia. Kolarov eventually got on, replacing a tired-looking Pablo Zabaleta, but Kompany got on in only the closing seconds, and the sight of Pellegrini stopping Toure from putting the armband on the captain was a telling vignette.
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Of course, there was also Sunday's Manchester derby to consider. City are already likely to be without David Silva and Sergio Aguero, but the prospect of entering that match with Bony as their lone striker looks dismal on this evidence. A litany of unconvincing contributions began with his 10th-minute miss of a chance lavishly carved by Toure and De Bruyne. Goalkeeper Rico gladly accepted the present of a shot straight at him, as he did when the Ivorian could only loop a header into his arms moments after Sevilla had scored the opener.
Some heavy touches had City fans expressing doubts about January's £28m signing, but if you can't be good, be lucky, and when Toure again created an opportunity with a powerful surge, this time to the byline, Bony smashed a shot off Adil Rami and into the net for City's first-half equaliser. He celebrated as if he had rattled the ball in from 30 yards, when in fact his effort had been heading in utterly the wrong direction.
It was telling that City became more dangerous in attack once Bony was replaced in the 76th minute by defensive midfielder Fernando.
3. Sevilla's costly lack of striking quality
Sevilla's dominance in the Europa League -- nobody has won as many as the holders' four victories in that competition's various guises -- has yet to translate into the Champions League. When a club's most expensive signing is the £7m paid to Stoke last summer for Steven N'Zonzi, it's perhaps perfectly understandable.
Last season's heavy schedule en route to winning a second straight Europa title has caused a hangover. Sevilla are currently 13th in La Liga. The goals of Carlos Bacca, sold to AC Milan for his release clause of €30m, have been sorely missed. Injuries to Fernando Llorente (on the bench) and Ciro Immobile (left out altogether) robbed them of more reliable goal-scoring talent.
But the visitors began with purpose in forcing a couple of early clearances from a hurried City defence that looked troubled all evening. When Yevhen Konoplyanka rattled the post with Joe Hart beaten in the 17th minute and City's goalie was required to make a fine save from the rebound, Sevilla began to assert real danger, forcing a raft of corners. It was little surprise when Konoplyanka scored the opening goal on the half-hour after Vitolo's darting run and square pass.
A breathless first half revealed defensive vulnerability in both teams and Sevilla struggled too, particularly with Sterling's pace and the loping, constant threat of Toure.
The Spanish side were left to bitterly rue a dreadful 55th-minute header from Kevin Gameiro. Benoit Tremoulinas had laid the ball on a plate for the French striker; all Hart could do was flap in hope and City's prayers were answered by the ball looping behind the goal. It was one of a number of missed chances to suggest where Sevilla's problems lie this season.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.