Football Features

“The dream will not die!” – Winners and Losers as Man City and Atalanta end Group C on a high

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 20:21, 11 December 2019

In a heated night of football, Manchester City cruised to victory against Dinamo Zagreb whilst Atalanta secured qualification with an incredible 0-2 win in Ukraine.

City confirmed their status as group winners by triumphing in every game played so far this season. Meanwhile Atalanta have managed to keep their debut Champions League campaign going with a big win that puts them in the round of 16.

Winner: Gabriel Jesus

There’s a bit in He Got Game where Denzel Washington is waxing lyrical about Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, a legendary basketball player who once averaged a ridiculous 41.5 points for an entire season as a college senior. His fluid and expressive game saw him nicknamed Jesus, and he thrilled so many with his audacious talent.

Gabriel Jesus has that same kind of audacious talent, that same expressive wonder. What’s more he is also capable of rattling in goals under pressure, despite his overall lack of finishing polish compared to Sergio Aguero. Jesus struggled in the weekend’s Manchester Derby but a sublime hat-trick in Zagreb to pull City from 1-0 down to 1-3 ahead showed that he is a striker you can really believe in.

Loser: Emir Dilaver

In truth many Zagreb players could go here as they really failed to keep a lid on the City players. Despite the early lead, the Croatian side couldn’t keep a lid on a Man City side that was missing the motivating power of necessity. Amer Gojak was a good candidate for escaping censure for his back elbow strike on Rodri, but no one can top Emir Dilaver’s failure.

The Austrian right-back had a torrid time tonight and was exposed on all three goals. For the first goal he got outmuscled by Jesus and instead of getting up to try and help his team he spent the next minute lying on the floor hoping the play would be stopped. It was not and City scored. And on the third goal his failure to close down Benjamin Mendy or even block the crossed allowed Jesus to seal his hat-trick.

But the second goal was his disasterpiece. City worked the ball into the box and Gabriel Jesus was advancing on goal diagonally. Dilaver was in a fantastic position to close him down, but he tried to do so with too much gusto and Jesus simply dropped his shoulder to drop Dilaver to the floor. The Austrian then had to watch from his supine position as the Brazilian put City ahead. Oh dear.

Winner: Papu Gomez

At 31-years-old, the likelyhood of Alejandro “Papu” Gomez making another Champions League campaign are slim at best. Yes they’re only a point behind current fourth-placed Cagliari, but you would expect Roma and Napoli to pull away in the second half of the season. This would be sad given his supreme late-career flourish into genuinely one of the most exciting players in Serie A.

And when Atalanta lost their first three games in the competition and only drew their fourth, it looked like all the hype and excitement over their playing style and attacking intent was going to end is embarrassing disappointment. But then Papu made an excellent run in behind and when found, he controlled and squared it superbly (via a deflection) for Timoty Castagne to arrive and stab home.

They would later make great use of defensive errors to make it 0-3, but that key goal – the most important goal of the night – was created by by the little Argentine who is bound and determined to make his mark on Europe’s premier competition. The dream will not die!

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Loser: Andriy Pyatov

This could have been Shakhtar as a whole, to be honest. The Ukrainian club came into the last matchday needing a win because they had drawn their three previous games. Then despite playing at home against Atalanta they capitulated and lost. It was a ridiculous failure, but it can all be distilled into one moment from tonight.

With 79 minutes on the clock, Shakhtar were already 0-1 down and had been reduced to 10 men after a bizarre red card for Dodo (made even more unfair as Luis Muriel was only booked for a stonewall red earlier). Shakhtar were up against it but there was still just enough time to mount a comeback.

Ukranian Ruslan Malinovskiy had come on for Atalanta and was stood over a wide free-kick. He whipped it in but it was far too close to Pyatov in the Shakhtar goal. It should have been an easy save, but Pyatov moved his arms away and just, sort of, declined to try and save it? It was a baffling error from a player who has a history of baffling errors and perfectly summed up Shakhtar’s descent into farce.

Winner: Dani Olmo

It’s not easy to leave Barcelona and thrive, but Dani Olmo is doing just that. The Croat left La Masia in 2014 to join Zagreb, betting on his own ability to make it away from the hallowed halls in Catalunya. It took him a while but he got there eventually. Last season he scored 12 times in 44 games, so far this season he has 7 goals in 18 games.

That seventh goal came tonight against Manchester City. An absolutely stunning strike where he drifted into the City box into the space between their centre-backs. The cross came in and Olmo reacted with the kind of supreme swagger that marks him out as a truly special talent. Olmo bent his body and volleyed the cross into the back of the net with truly sublime technique. That was his third goal in the competition and the attention that has brought him (including a Spain call-up, where he scored on his debut of course), it’s hard to see him staying in Zagreb beyond January.

Winner: Pep Guardiola

After the tumultuous defeat in the Manchester Derby all but ending their chances of retaining the Premier League title for the third year in a row, Pep Guardiola knew that the pressure to win the Champions League was now greater than ever. And the Catalan coach saw his players show a steely mentality that just may allow them to do that.

Playing without key men like Kevin de Bruyne, Ederson and Raheem Sterling, it would have been very easy for Manchester City to fold when they went behind to Dani Olmo’s early strike. But Guardiola’s men kept their cool. The City midfield for once featured two classic central midfielders in Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan and that added balance is what helped them seize control of the game.

Gundogan was immense and had the most touches (125) and passes (105) in the game. The German dictated the tempo along with Rodri and this allowed Phil Foden to operate as a devastating “free 8” surging forward and helping City to overload the Zagreb defence. The youngster even got on the scoresheet late on as Pep Guardiola’s gameplan paid off perfectly. Could this be the blueprint for City to finally take their domestic brilliance onto the European stage?

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