Football News

Josko Gvardiol muzzles Haaland again as Premier League-admiring defender bags in RB Leipzig 1-1 Man City

By Ben Green

Josko Gvardiol muzzles Haaland again as Premier League-admiring defender bags in RB Leipzig 1-1 Man City copy

Published: 22:12, 22 February 2023

RB Leipzig battled from behind to secure a 1-1 draw against Manchester City in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Pep Guardiola’s men were utterly dominant in the first half as the Saxons sat deep and looked to subdue their cyclical waves of attacking pressure. City pressed and probed, and were eventually rewarded for their patience and relentless onslaught, with Riyad Mahrez poking home in the 27th minute.

The strike brought up the Algerian’s 20th goal in the competition to become the fifth African player to achieve that feat after Mohamed Salah, Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and Sadio Mane. It’s a personal milestone that enhances his legacy in the game, but for the context of this match, it was a vital opener.

Almost like muscle memory, City went straight back to pressing and remained perceptively focused after Mahrez’s strike, resuming their habitual role as ball hoggers; retaining possession and keeping the tempo set within the framework of their will.

However, it would ultimately prove a chalk-and-cheese contest, with Leipzig switching things up at the break and coming out in the second half with the bit between their teeth. Marco Rose knew another half of attack-vs-defence wouldn’t get his side back into the contest, so he modified his approach.

The hosts were more hungry and froth-mouthed after the break, asking questions of City’s backline and creating openings that were seldom on display in the opening 45 minutes. A percussive home audience kept the energy alive in the arena, and Rose’ men tapped into that vigour, eventually equalising.

The goal came from an unlikely source. Typically a hard-nosed, no-nonsense bulwark, Josko Gvardiol was the man to deliver in the City box and restore parity. Rising highest from a Marcel Halstenberg cross, the Croatian leapt like a salmon and guided the ball into the back of the net.

One of the most sought-after defenders in Europe, Gvardiol has previously made no secret of his desire to join the Premier League. “I don’t know if you know this but my goal in my career is to play in the Premier League,” Gvardiol told The Times last week ahead of this crunch clash.

He has previously been linked with Chelsea after the club made a huge offer for him last summer, but Leipzig ultimately stuck to their guns and thwarted the Premier League club’s advances for their prized asset. The 21-year-old recently admitted he wasn’t best pleased with Leipzig’s decision.

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He said: “My agent called me and said that Chelsea is extremely interested and, of course, you definitely think about a serious offer from a huge club like Chelsea. Leipzig said they didn’t want to sell me. In the end I really struggled with that decision but we didn’t make an agreement. It is what it is.”

Of course, you can see why he is in such high demand. Tonight, he showed resilience and potency to keep City at bay. This was also his second appearance against Haaland, following a 4-1 win over Dortmund in April last year. Then too, he kept a lid on Haaland and defanged the freakish goalscorer.

Two match-ups against Haaland, two blanks fired by the Norwegian. For prospective Premier League clubs, they will be licking their lips and loosening their purse strings.

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In the night’s other fixture, Inter Milan came through a dramatic tie against Porto at the San Siro. It was an unbelievable back-and-forth event, with plenty of goalscoring opportunities. The decisive moment came in the 78th minute as Otavio picked up his second booking and got sent off.

That changed the complexion of the tie, and Inter pushed forward looking for that all important opener. Diogo Costa’s resolve was finally broken by Romelu Lukaku in the dying embers, giving the Italian giants a one-goal advantage heading to the Iberian peninsula for the return leg.

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