David Silva's late winner saves the day for Man City, overshadows cracks in defence
SINSHEIM, Germany -- Three points from Rhein-Neckar-Arena as Man City edged Hoffenheim 2-1 on a late David Silva strike in UEFA Champions League Group F.
1. David Silva, Man City leave it late
Manchester City left it very late, but their Champions League is just about back on track after a nervy night in Germany. The Premier League champions were just three minutes from starting the competition without a victory from their opening two games when David Silva latched onto Stefan Posch's slack defending to lash home a late winner.
City's shock home defeat in their opening game at Lyon had turned what looked like a relatively straightforward group into a potential "Group of Death" when they fell behind inside 43 seconds. Kerem Demirbay's pass split a huge gap between centre-backs Nicolas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany for Ishak Belfodil to slide a shot under Ederson.
In a frenetic opening, City responded quickly on seven minutes. David Silva dissected the defence with a trademark pass and Leroy Sane kept his cool to pull it back for Sergio Aguero to scramble home an equaliser from close range.
It was a huge relief for Pep Guardiola, who has never failed to get out of the group stage in nine attempts as a coach but was clearly irritated as he agitatedly patrolled his lengthy technical area throughout the game.
Part of that annoyance was prompted by the performance of referee Damir Skomina. Guardiola was returning to the touchline after a one-game ban after confronting the officials in last season's exit to Liverpool and said he would try to control his temper. But his effort didn't last long, and he could barely hide his frustrations with the official.
City appeared to have a clear penalty turned down in the second half when Sane was upended by Hoffenheim goalkeeper Oliver Baumann, but the referee turned down appeals and also didn't book the winger for diving.
He had already received a ticking off in the first for his angry frustrations when the referee decided to stop the play after Silva's quick throw had put Sane through on goal. However, Guardiola could also have been thankful for a show of leniency when Kyle Walker was shown only a yellow card for a dangerous lunge on Pavel Kaderabek.
City's passage to the knockout stage is far from secure with Group F intriguingly balanced, but had it not been for Silva's late winner, qualification would have been left on a knife's edge.
2. Aguero keeps on firing
Aguero may have been playing with a painful heel injury, but it was the Hoffenheim defence that were suffering as they tried to cope with another lively performance from the striker.
His opening goal was all about his awareness -- reacting quickly as Sane bore down on goal to offer him an option and, when the ball finally arrived, he squeezed his shot past Hoffenheim's Baumann.
The Argentine was unfortunate not to have a first-half hat trick. A brilliant slalom run from Sane, who looked a threat throughout in front of onlooking Germany coach Joachim Low, eventually looped up for Aguero and he cleverly adjusted his body to volley first time, but his effort drifted inches wide of the post.
He created another chance for himself when he cut inside from the left, but his delicious 25-yard curling effort was clawed away by Baumann at full stretch and just before half-time he sent another fierce effort from distance inches over the bar.
Despite a slight injury, Aguero is being asked to carry the fight, with fellow striker Gabriel Jesus short of confidence after a poor World Cup in which he failed to score. He deserved more in Germany for his efforts, but buoyed by a new one-year contract extension, City's greatest ever goal scorer continues to be their big man for the big occasion.
3. Laporte struggles on the left
Left-back was a problem for City on both of their trips to Anfield last season, and it looks like it could be an issue again for Sunday's crucial game between the top two.
Fabian Delph, who had a difficult 40 minutes in the 4-3 defeat in January, has already been ruled out with a knee injury while Benjamin Mendy, who was out for last season's games with a cruciate knee ligament injury, faces a race to recover in time from a bruised metatarsal.
That leaves midfielder Oleksandr Zinchenko, right-back Danilo and centre-back Aymeric Laporte, and Guardiola would see the latter as is his best option, but he may have to rethink his options after his performance at Hoffenheim.
The Frenchman has been impressive this season in his rightful position at centre-back, playing every minute in the Premier League and Champions League as the defending champions moved top domestically.
But he looked far from comfortable shifted back on the left. His last appearance there was the disastrous 3-0 defeat to Liverpool in the Champions League quarterfinal first leg when he failed to cope with the pace and creativity of Mohamed Salah, particularly when he was isolated with the Egyptian.
Whether Guardiola chose him for the role against Hoffenheim to cope with the physicality of Brazilian wide man Joelinton, or as an audition for Sunday's crunch game, it didn't go well. Now all eyes turn to Guardiola's selection decision for Sunday.