December 10, 2013

Manchester City's James Milner celebrates his game-winning goal against Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Tuesday.
John Walton/AP

Another night of UEFA Champions League drama on Matchday Six saw the holder beaten at home, one decisive game abandoned and Olympiakos pip Benfica to qualification despite missing two penalties. It was also a good night for the Manchester clubs, with both City and United headed to the knockout stage on winning notes.

Here is what stood out from Tuesday's games:

Confusion overshadows City's win at Bayern

For a moment there, each team looking likely to top its group was looking very nervous indeed. Bayern Munich had raced into a 2-0 lead against Manchester City and the German champion looked like continuing where it left off after its 7-0 weekend win at Werder Bremen. Instead, football's ability to surprise threw up an unthinkable twist when somehow City, so far behind Bayern in the first 20 minutes, pulled a goal back before the break, and added two more in the second half to secure an unlikely, yet impressive, 3-2 win.

For the last 25 minutes, it chased a fourth goal that would have put it top of the group -- not that coach Manuel Pellegrini seemed to know that.

In his post-match interview with Sky, Pellegrini seemed to think that City needed two more goals, not one, to top the group -- and that he left Sergio Aguero on the bench "in case we scored one more goal." Given that he brought on a defensive midfielder, Jack Rodwell, with five minutes left, the misunderstanding is embarrassing, and potentially very costly.

In the end, it was a Pyrrhic victory: Bayern still top the group, on goal difference, but only by one goal on the head-to-head. But this was a real let-off for Bayern, whose coach Pep Guardiola was only animated on the touchline after his team's errors. And there were plenty of them: David Silva scored City's first goal, tapping home unmarked after James Milner was allowed to head Jesus Navas's center across goal.

Bayern did not heed the warning in the second half, and self-destructed when Dante needlessly got close to Milner as the ball was heading out of play. Milner went down, and the penalty was generous but converted by stand-in skipper Aleksandr Kolarov. Minutes later, the outstanding Milner added a third, curling home from inside the area after an ugly air-kick from Jerome Boateng.

"This is a joke of a final match," wrote Munich paper Abendzeitung on the morning of the game. "Will Bayern really give away a 3-1 lead? Good joke."

Well, it almost did: after another Dante error late on, Alvaro Negredo ran on goal and was denied by Manuel Neuer. Following that, there was the surreal sight of Bayern players, unbeaten in 40 games in the Bundesliga and 3-2 down in the game, trying to keep the ball by the corner-flag. Strange.

Bayern had clearly taken its foot off the gas after Thomas Muller and Mario Goetze had put them ahead after just 12 minutes, but it struggled to get back in gear thereafter. In that respect, it was a repeat of its Round of 16 game against Arsenal last season: Bayern won 3-1 at the Emirates and sleep-walked as Arsenal won 2-0 at Bayern. If this team's weakness is to give up when it thinks it has won, then at least it's a weakness that exists.

Having won 18 on the spin at home, and 10 in a row in this competition, there was a fear that Bayern might find this all too easy this season. Not so: and City deserves a lot of credit for its comeback, especially as its away form has been the source of so many issues in the Premier League this season.

For once, Joe Hart started in goal and will not dominate the narrative. Milner was superb and after becoming the first Englishman to score for City in the competition, said: "It says a lot about the character we have in the dressing room."

City could face a European giant in the next round; on this performance, though, most teams would want to avoid it in the Round of 16.

Weather halts Group B decider

If the tension wasn't high enough when Galatasaray took on Juventus with the winner finishing second behind Real Madrid, it has now been ramped up after a first-half blizzard caused the game to be abandoned after 31 minutes of play.

There is something about this group: Galatasaray only have four points from five games, while Juventus only won its first match of the group on Matchday Five. Yet both had the chance to qualify. That chance will now come on Wednesday after referee Pedro Proenca ruled that the hailstorm that made life a little tricky for the players was too strong for the game to continue safely.

Although the forecasts predicted it, when the hail came it was thick and fast, turning the pitch from a green field to a total white-out within 10 minutes. In terms of action, Galatasaray started strongly, but it was Juventus that had the best chance, with Fernando Llorente hooking an effort just wide. These two teams will meet again, but the story won't end there.

The conditions were far worse when Benfica played Olympiakos in a rainstorm on Matchday Three. On a flooded pitch that was more unplayable than this one, Benfica was only able to draw 1-1. Had it won that game, and future results remained the same, it would have qualified ahead of the Greeks from Group A. So while the build-up to the Galatasaray game continues, the aftermath of this decision may well be felt elsewhere.

CREDITOR: Kljestan becomes latest American to score in CL

End of an era at Plzen

There were emotional scenes after Viktoria Plzen secured a last-minute 2-1 win at home to CSKA Moscow. After five years, two titles and a Cup win and a third straight qualification for European football in the spring, coach Pavel Vrba is now leaving Plzen to take charge of the Czech Republic national team. And he got the perfect leaving present: Thomas Wagner's 90th minute effort securing a come-from-behind win against an opponent that ended up with nine men.

Not that Plzen is particularly happy about Vrba's departure. General director Adolf Sadek moaned that the Czech FA, who met Vrba's contractual release clause of around £240,000, did not have the club's agreement, but few would begrudge Vrba his opportunity. He has shown at Plzen that attractive football can win titles and the Czech national team will give him the opportunity to work again with the likes of Vladimir Darida, Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar -- players whose Plzen performances earned them moves to the Bundesliga. And now the Czech side leapfrogs CSKA for a place in the Europa League.

Chaos as Olympiakos makes it through

The Greek champion's task was simple tonight: just to beat bottom side Anderlecht, or at least do no worse than Benfica could manage against a depleted Paris Saint-Germain side. But Olympiakos has a habit of making life difficult for itself -- not helped by the fact that it missed two penalties before securing a 3-1 win with a 95th-minute goal -- from the penalty spot.

Anderlecht tried to help it along the way and by the time the game finished, it had three players sent off. Lisbon will host the Champions League final next May but Benfica won't be there: it beat PSG but Olympiakos, just about, managed to hold on to their group's second spot.

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