Manchester City on verge of first UCL quarterfinal; PSV holds Atletico
Manchester City took a major step towards its first UEFA Champions League quarterfinal with a 3-1 victory away to Dynamo Kyiv in the first leg of its round-of-16 tie. City, much improved after its struggles in recent weeks, took a 2-0 lead in the first half thanks to goals from Sergio Aguero and David Silva. Vitaliy Buyalskyi pulled one back with a deflected shot just before the hour mark, but a superb goal from Yaya Toure–who had earlier missed a golden chance–restored the two-goal margin in the final minute.
In Eindhoven, PSV was reduced to 10 men with more than a quarter of the game still to play with a red card to Gaston Pereiro, but the Eredivisie leader held out against Atletico Madrid for a 0-0 draw.
Here is what caught our eye on the day:
Player of the Day: Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
There is a slightly odd statistic that Manchester City this season (before this game) had a higher win percentage without Sergio Aguero (71%) than it does with him (54%). Yet whatever questions there may be about his overall contribution, nobody at City would rather be without him. The game had begun worryingly for City with Dynamo looking positive and an edgy Joe Hart fumbling an Andriy Yarmolenko shot onto the crossbar.
But with quarter of an hour gone, David Silva sent over an outswinging corner, Toure headed it down, and Aguero pounced, his first touch knocking the ball forward, his second crashing a shot into the net from close range. It was a classic poacher’s goal, his 22nd in the Champions League, and it changed the dynamic of the game utterly.
Aguero then had a key role in the second, holding the ball up, and releasing Raheem Sterling with a backheel to cross for David Silva to turn in. He also set up a good chance for Toure and missed two decent chances himself in a first half in which City might have settled the tie.
Moment of the Day: Zoet’s save from Griezmann
There wasn’t much to get overly excited about in PSV’s 0-0 draw with Atletico Madrid, even after Pereiro was sent off for a second yellow card in the space of quarter of an hour. The Dutch side had more of the ball, and Atletico had the better of the chances. The closest either side came to a goal was on the half hour as Jeffrey Bruma, who otherwise had a very good night, gave away possession cheaply. Antoine Griezmann was set clean through but the PSV keeper Jeroen Zoet spread himself well to save.
Major Takeaway of the Day: Man City can still impress
After three miserable weeks for Manchester City in which it slipped six points behind the Premier League leader Leicester City and went out of the FA Cup to Chelsea, this was revelatory. After all the talk about City’s poor European form since first playing in the Champions League in 2011, its best two performances this season have come in the Champions League.
It’s true that this was only against a Dynamo side that, because of the Ukrainian winter break, hadn’t played a competitive game since early December, so nobody should go overboard, but City looked far sharper and far more decisive than it has since the first month of the season. Manuel Pellegrini has been criticized for his passivity, his clear preference for sticking to the same approach in every game, but here he re-worked his midfield to significant effect.
The shape was much as usual, a 4-2-3-1, but the way the personnel was arranged and the way they played was different. Toure, whose lack of stamina has been a concern all season, sat deep, with Fernando pressing alongside him. Fernandinho, operating in an unusual right-sided role, also pressured the ball high and early. That deployment meant David Silva could play as a No. 10 creating play from a more central role and have more influence over the game than he does when he operates on the flank. Sterling then shuttled up and down the left, offering attacking width as well as an extra body in midfield. With a more solid midfield in front of them, the back four looked far more secure than it has done as well.
Dynamo rallied after halftime, and City wobbled alarmingly in the second half, the assurance of the first disappearing. Hart was called into a brave save off a chance from Buyalskyi, but Toure had put a close-range header wide even before scoring the brilliant third, curling the ball home in characteristic fashion after a one-two with Fernandinho to ensure City's dominant position heading into the home leg.
How the Second Legs Shape Up
Although City may feel it should have had the game wrapped up before halftime, with a first-leg lead and two away goals, it should still make it through to the last eight. In the 61-year history of the European Cup and Champions League, only seven sides have ever gone through after losing the first leg at home.
The other tie is finely poised. Ostensibly an away draw gives Atletico the advantage, but having failed to break down 10 men, it may feel it should have done more–and the lack of an away goal means it is vulnerable to a 1-1 home draw.