Manchester City played out a goalless stalemate away to Copenhagen in the Champions League on Tuesday night having contested an hour of the competition with 10 men.
Pep Guardiola made the bold decision to bench Erling Haaland for this away trip to a potentially awkward Copenhagen. And awkward they proved. The Danes pressed City, forced openings and ultimately kept a lid on their expensively-assembled attack (even one without Haaland).
The match started as you might have expected. The visiting Group G leaders pressed and probed with inexorable waves of pressure. And Rodri thought he had finally broken Kamil Grabara’s resolve 11 minutes into the contest with his first-ever Champions League goal. And it was a peach.
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As the ball fell to him on the edge of the box, the Spaniard unleashed a trivela strike that whistled past Grabara. However, upon consultation with VAR and a trip to the Parken Stadium monitor, referee Artur Dias ruled that the ball had struck Riyad Mahrez’s arm in the build-up. Goal denied.
And things wouldn’t get much better for the Algerian. Minutes later, City were awarded a penalty after another visit to the monitor for Dias, who adjudged Nicolai Boilesen to have handled the ball in his own box. This time an outstretched arm going in the favour of Guardiola.
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However, Mahrez would ultimately miss the resultant spot-kick, with Grabara guessing the right way and parrying his shot to safety. In truth, it was not the greatest of strikes from Mahrez, who hit it at a comfortable height for the ‘keeper and didn’t leather it with enough conviction to really trouble him.
Things would then go from bad to worse for City as the recently in-form Sergio Gomez collected a red card 15 minutes from half-time — and once against VAR played a part. Originally waved on from Dias after Gomez brought down the last man, the referee reversed his decision once he caught a glance of the monitor.
And Mahrez was ultimately the collateral damage from Gomez’s red, as Guardiola hauled him off to re-stabilise his backline, with Ruben Dias entering the fray. It was an unfortunate substitution for Mahrez, but one that pretty much summed up his hapless night, having been penalised for handling the ball to deny Rodri, and then squandering from 12 yards. He was the obvious choice to bring off for Pep.
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The match slowly descended into a rather scrappy affair as neither side pushed the boat out to really go for the jugular. Copenhagen had moments of success, but only tested Ederson once with only the single shot on target, while Guardiola refused to call on his get-out-of-jail-free card Haaland.
Honours even in the Danish capital, and despite zero goals, it was a thoroughly entertaining affair. City will remain top regardless of the Dortmund-Sevilla outcome, but Copenhagen could do with a Sevilla win to just keep things tight between second, third and fourth in the group.