Manchester City missed out on the chance to secure qualification for the Champions League knockout stage after a 1-1 draw with Atalanta.
City’s imperious first half was rewarded with a 1-0 lead courtesy of the ever-clinical Raheem Sterling, but a missed penalty by Gabriel Jesus preceded an unconvincing second half.
Mario Pasalic nodded home a swift equaliser after the break before Claudio Bravo’s red card left City to fight for a 1-1 draw with Kyle Walker in goal.
Here are five things we learned.
1. Bernardo the heir to David?
The meme where Spiderman points at his identical counterpart has never felt more appropriate. David Silva may have been Man City’s most consistent performer for nearly a decade, and his departure next summer may leave a huge void in midfield but, in Bernardo, City have the perfect Silva lining.
He joined Man City in 2017 known largely as a creative wide player who could drift inside, but he proves time and time again that he is probably more effective when he starts there. City’s goal tonight proved that, as Raheem Sterling’s interception gave Bernardo all the time and space he needed to slot a ball through to his front man Gabriel Jesus, who then teed up the Englishman to finish the move he started.
The Portuguese midfielder spent much of the evening in a classic no.10 position, picking up space and creating it for others when he occasionally drifted back out wide.
England fans have been longing for Phil Foden to be granted more opportunities on the left of City’s midfield three, but Guardiola will have a dilemma on his hands in the near future if Bernardo Silva continues to prove his worth in a central role.
Pep Guardiola dismisses goalkeeper problems
2. Zapata’s absence more than just a loss of goal threat
There are few teams in the world of football who can do without their talisman. Atalanta, despite their one goal, were no different tonight as their attacking efforts broke down with a whimper for large swathes of the game. Gian Piero Gasperini’s side are deservedly known for a seductive brand of football filled with verve and style. But for all the finesse we associate with the Italian side, the absence of the formidable Duvan Zupata showed that physical presence is just as crucial as the trickery behind it.
Josip Ilicic is hardly goal-shy, he scored 13 in all competitions last season. Neither is Alejandro Gomez, the creative Argentine grabbed 11 last season. Both possess the ability to roam wide and deep that makes them elusive and ideal for the focal point up top who can capitalise on the subsequent openings. But Zapata’s absence through injury meant that for large parts of the game, the far from first choice centre half partnership of Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho went unchallenged all evening.
Otamendi and Fernandinho, while robust characters in any side, don’t represent the most physically imposing defensive core. Zapata’s stature could have been the much needed difference. Not only is he a goal scoring threat (the Colombian has 7 goals in 9 games this season) but his hold up play would have afforded Ilicic and Gomez the attacking fulcrum to play off. Pep Guardiola should count himself very fortunate that his opponents were missing what surely would have been the biggest threat to a weakened defence.
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3. Man City have a host of defensive issues
When Aymeric Laporte suffered from a horrific cartilage injury in Augusts win against Brighton, Man City were right to be worried. The Frenchman has been arguably the biggest injury blow to any side in England, and his defensive prowess was once again missed tonight as Atalanta’s 49th minute Mario Pasalic header was born from suspect defending.
Fernandinho isn’t a centre back. While his physical style of play and versatility has been so important to City over the last few years, the nature of Pasalic’s powerful header does pose the question: Would Laporte have snuffed it out? No one knows the answer to that. But a looping cross into the left hand side of City’s defence usually reached a different conclusion when he was fit.
That doesn’t mean to say the goal was born from Fernandinho’s error. In fact, just as many fingers will have been pointed at left back Benjamin Mendy whose attention only found itself in Pasalic’s direction when the net had already began bulging. Throw into the mix Joao Cancelo’s gaping right flank and Otamendi’s lacklustre closing down of the cross, and City’s defence paints a very concerning picture.
4. Ederson injury could leave City’s season in tatters
Is there an image that suggests carnage more than the sight of your right back wearing goalkeeper gloves? Either way, Man City’s season could be under threat after Ederson’s half time substitution through injury. The Brazilian made way for Claudio Bravo, who failed to make a save before showcasing his capacity to complicate proceedings when his despairing challenge forced City to play with 10 men.
The Chilean will be available should Ederson not make the crucial Liverpool game on Sunday. But this may not be of any reassurance to City fans. Tonight he made less saves (0) than Kyle Walker (1).
Ederson: 0 saves
Claudio Bravo: 0 saves
Kyle Walker: 1 save
Manchester City have a new No.1. 😂 pic.twitter.com/wHQRrlt5nj
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 6, 2019
On his fitness Guardiola told reporters after the game that Ederson “didn’t feel comfortable” and that he was taken off “to avoid risk”. The Catalan boss added that he doesn’t know whether the Brazilian will be fit for the Anfield clash.
5. Atalanta are finding their feet on the biggest stage.
It’s probably fair to say that Atalanta have been one of the more underwhelming teams in the competition this season. Their exciting and roundly admired style of play in Serie A hasn’t transferred itself into Europe. Dinamo Zagreb were supposed to be the ‘whipping boys’ of this group, so a 4-0 defeat on matchday one set a worrying precedent.
Then there was Shakhtar Donetsk. A cruel 95th minute winner from Manor Solomon compounded the Italian’s misery while potentially serving as a symptom of their naivety at this level. Then, their trip to the Etihad proved to be a lesson in just how ruthless the very best are. Taking the lead wasn’t enough to boost their confidence as they quickly squandered the lead.
Tonight, a draw against the competition favourites marks significant progress. The first half performance was abject in certain areas, but their second half effort made Man City look like the team in uncharted territory, culminating in Claudio Bravo’s reckless red card offence.
Shakhtar’s win against Dinamo Zagreb means Gasperini’s side are all but out of the competition, but on tonight’s second half resurgence, they will prove an increasingly awkward customer for Europe’s best should they return next season.