RB Leipzig 1-3 Man City: Jeremy Doku and Julian Alvarez strike late

RB Leipzig 1-3 Man City: Jeremy Doku and Julian Alvarez strike late to put Pep Guariola’s side in firm control of Champions League group

  • Phil Foden opened the scoring midway through the first half with a neat finish after meeting Rico Lewis’ cross
  • Lois Openda hit back for the hosts just after half-time running through on goal and finishing coolly
  • Julian Alvarez restored City’s lead with a sumptuous strike before Jeremy Doku wrapped it up on the counter  

One can happen. Two was more than a bit careless. Three defeats on the bounce? Manchester City would have found themselves on the thick end of a very rare crisis indeed.

The likelihood of that diminished with the inclusion of a fulcrum, the No 16. The man who never loses. Rodri makes them tick, makes everybody better. The safety net was back as City have now firmly taken charge of Group G – but only after late heroics by Julian Alvarez.

Rodri missed the last two through suspension and, worryingly for Pep Guardiola, is serving the third of that ban at the Emirates on Sunday. How those picked in his place fare will determine whether the champions leave north London with anything or not. 

Alvarez, an impact substitute here, will surely start and finishes like this winner – dipping into the far corner under pressure – show exactly why he is of significant importance too. When Erling Haaland can’t, Alvarez can.

After consecutive defeats – one they weren’t overly fussed by at Newcastle in the Carabao Cup and another at Wolves that ‘hurt’ far more – City seemed intent on taking a step forward ahead of meeting Arsenal at the weekend. Guardiola needed to see a show of positivity, although not quite to the extent that player liaison Dani Codina attempted to jump off the coach before it had stopped as they rolled up at the Red Bull Arena.

Guardiola has only suffered a trio of reverses once during his eight seasons in England, back in 2018. Here he tinkered. Gone was Kyle Walker staying really high and wide, basically a winger, and the old new school system returned: a central defender moving into midfield, ready for when John Stones is match fit. Manuel Akanji did it last night, but nobody is as good at that as Stones, who was back in the squad having not featured at all since the Community Shield.

While initially a little sloppy in possession, a few too many balls leaving team-mates short and encouraging the hosts to nip in, City owned it almost exclusively. Bernardo Silva, back in after missing the last three, somehow stabbed wide at the far post after Phil Foden clipped an effort in his direction. City wanted a penalty for handball when a floating Silva shot struck Castello Lukeba, with Foden then thrashing wide following a slaloming run.

Guardiola still looked like a man displeased with his side taking the safe option on too many occasions though, flashing Jack Grealish a similar dagger to whoever had hit him with an errant cross when sat scrolling through his WhatsApps during the warm-up.

He has moxie in young Rico Lewis, the right back operating as a No 8, and it was the teenager who created Foden’s 25th-minute opener. Akanji gave him the chance to roam, Lewis wanted a give-and-go with Silva and made his way to the byline by giving Xaver Schlager the slip. Once there, he had the presence of mind to find Foden, whose bounced shot found Janis Blaswich’s corner.

And Lewis was soon moaning at Haaland for choosing to shoot wide rather than square. The great thing about the diminutive Lewis, always targeted for rough treatment, is his ability to give more energy anywhere on the pitch with a fearlessness and, when he does make a mistake, rectifying it almost immediately.

He will endure those occasionally but reacts with admirable maturity and seems equally at home further up the pitch. It is there where he excelled in a pre-season friendly against Bayern Munich in Tokyo a few months ago, the best player on the park.

Leipzig just had not threatened in exactly the same way as they didn’t back in February for the last-16 first leg, which ended 1-1. Like that night, they came out with vigour after Marco Rose had got into them at the break. Within three minutes, Lois Openda wheeled away with his first European goal since a £32million summer move from Lens.

Openda, the future of Belgian football alongside City’s Jeremy Doku, had charged through from a Yussef Poulsen throughball, Akanji failing to sufficiently knock him off balance, after Leipzig gobbled up a loose Grealish pass. City were ahead of the ball and playing catch up, countered in a way Wolves managed so expertly a few days ago.

Haaland missed again, sliding wide at the back post to meet a vicious Foden cross. Foden crashed the bar from a free-kick, Blaswich tipping another Haaland effort for a corner, and it felt as though City were again beginning to crank up pressure after seeming a little startled.

Still susceptible, though. Emile Forsberg cursed as he overhit a ball towards Openda when the hosts had turned them over once more. Haaland to skied over after Lewis fizzed a pass into him, one which appeared difficult to control, so Guardiola chucked Alvarez on for the chaos factor.

With six minutes remaining, five after he entered the stage, the Argentine was making sure they left here having recaptured the winning feeling. For good measure, Doku skipped onto an Alvarez pass in stoppage time and helped himself to a third as well.

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