Manchester City and FC Copenhagen competed in a scoreless, VAR-filled draw that saw a wonder goal cruelly disallowed, an even more cruel penalty awarded, and a red card justifiably given.
Following the draw, City still sit atop their group with a match against second-placed Dortmund in two weeks.
Pep Guardiola played a slightly rotated side, giving some of his top players a much-deserved rest before Sunday’s match at Anfield.
Ederson started in goal, with Manuel Akanji and Aymeric Laporte as the centre-back pairing. They were flanked by Joao Cancelo and Sergio Gomez, with a midfield trio of Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan, and Kevin De Bruyne, supporting the forward line of Jack Grealish, Julian Alvarez, and Riyad Mahrez.
While some of Guardiola’s top players were given the start, players like Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva and Erling Haaland were either used as late subs or rested entirely.
Alverez nearly grabbed the first goal of the game in the sixth minute. The Argentinian forward came down the left wing on a counterattack and fired a low shot across Kamil Grabara, who was forced to make a save.
City thought they had the first goal of the game in the 10th minute when Rodri appeared to have scored one of his trademark long shots. However, just seconds after the goal, Portuguese referee Artur Dias indicated he had to check the monitor for a potential handball in the buildup.
The replay showed the ball bounced off the hand of Mahrez faintly before the Algerian played it off to Alvarez, who assisted the goal. Because of Mahrez’s touch, the goal was harshly ruled out, and the score remained 0-0.
After the VAR review, Copenhagen had their own chance to score a long-range effort. In the 19th minute, Ederson had his pass intercepted and left the City back line exposed. The ball found its way to Elias Jelert whose cross landed at the feet of Lukas Lerager, who shot from just outside the box causing Ederson to knock it over the bar.
Immediately, following Copenhagen’s effort, City had an attack of their own and won a corner. When the ball was played into the box, it struck the outstretched arm of a Copenhagen defender. While it wasn’t immediately called on the field, the referee stopped play and ran to the monitor for a second time.
When the review concluded, a penalty was awarded to City and Mahrez stepped up to attempt to convert. But Mahrez’s attempt was parried away by Grabara to keep the game scoreless.
After scoring nine consecutive penalties for the Blues over the past few seasons, the Algerian has now missed two out of his last three.
However, the craziness did not end there. Just a few minutes after the saved penalty, Copenhagen launched a counterattack, and it appeared as though Hakon Haraldsson was through on goal, but was dragged down by Sergio Gomez.
Initially, the referee waved play on, indicating he did not believe it was a foul. But after a few more passages of play, the game was whistled dead for the third time in less than twenty minutes for yet another VAR review.
The replay only lasted a few seconds and confirmed Gomez’s mistake. Because it occurred just outside of the box, the review was for a red card, not a penalty. City were now down to ten men, and Copenhagen were awarded a free kick in a dangerous zone.
The free kick was smashed firstly into the wall, and the Danish side were unable to take advantage of their situation.
Following the red card and free kick, Ruben Dias came on for Mahrez after just 30 minutes.
The substitution caused Guardiola to make a massive formation shift. The favoured 4-3-3 was dropped for a 5-2-2/3-4-2 hybrid. Rodri dropped out of midfield to be the middle centre-back, while Cancelo went to left wing-back and Akanji switched to right wing-back.
With the dramatic formation change, City were knocked out of their rhythm and struggled for the rest of the first half to create any clear chances.
Guardiola elected not to make any changes at halftime, keeping Haaland on the bench.
Even after a halftime pep talk, City were unable to find a rhythm throughout the second half. There were a handful of clear-cut opportunities from De Bruyne and Cancelo at the beginning and end of the half that almost saw City grab the win.
Copenhagen nearly grabbed the winner in the 72nd minute when Victor Kristiansen fired in a dangerous low ball to Isak Johannesson at the back post. But the ball was inches ahead of Johannesson’s outstretched leg and went out of play for a goal kick. It was Copenhagen’s best chance of the night.
In the closing minutes of the match, Bernardo, Foden, and Nathan Ake came on for De Bruyne, Grealish and Laporte to see the game through and secure the point.
City take on Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday at 4:30 pm (BST).
Man of the Match
It doesn’t happen often, but I thought that Grabara’s performance in goal stood out more than any other player, especially any City player. The former Liverpool keeper saved a well-taken penalty and parried away a few more solid efforts from De Bruyne and Cancelo. I can’t say I pay any attention to the Danish league, but I can’t imagine Grabara not moving to a bigger side in Europe in the near future.
As for the Blues, Akanji was once again impressive, despite being tasked with an unfamiliar role out on the right following the sending off. The Swiss international was strong in his duals and tackles and is quickly proving to be one of the shrewdest acquisitions in the Guardiola era.
Ederson - 7
Cancelo - 7
Akanji - 7.5
Laporte - 7
Gomez - 4
Rodri - 7
Gundogan - 6
De Bruyne - 6
Grealish - 6
Alvarez - 6
Mahrez - 5
Subs: Dias 7, Bernardo N/A, Foden N/A, Ake N/A
Written by: @IVIeehan
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