Manchester City snuck an unlikely victory in the dying moments of their last 16 Champions League tie against Schalke, after being down 2-1 for much of the encounter at the Veltins-Arena.
The Premier League leaders took the lead in the 19th minute, after David Silva capitalised on some dithering from Salif Sane on the edge of his box, following an inopportune pass from Ralf Fahrmann in goal, leaving Sergio Aguero with the simplest of tap-ins.
The hosts were awarded a penalty for a Nicolas Otamendi handball after a gargantuan VAR-induced wait (a VAit?). Despite the delay, Nabil Bentaleb made no mistake from the spot, smashing it into the right hand corner.
They were then awarded a second penalty in the 43rd minute for some foolish shirt-pulling from Fernandinho, with Bentaleb again delivering the goods. After rallying at the start of the second half, the Citizens were soon stymied by their opponents, and when Otamendi got himself sent off, things looked to be unravelling for Pep Guardiola.
But with five minutes to go, Leroy Sane grabbed the equaliser with an astonishingly accurate free kick, and just five minutes later Raheem Sterling, aided by some inept defensive communication, broke Gelsenkirchen hearts to steal the win.
Here's 90min's breakdown of the game.
Key Talking Point
Not for the first time in this Champions League knockout stage, it was VAR that grabbed the headlines, and Schalke were on both ends of a consulted decision - both of which were probably right, but handled with obvious clumsiness.
VAR is bullshit. Massive delay. People yelling, staring at screens, yelling at the ref to force a review. Horrible stuff.— Barney Ronay (@barneyronay) February 20, 2019
Thankfully, the controversy let up in the second half, allowing the home side's admirable resolve to come to the fore. But, ultimately, they were undone by a moment of absolute quality from one of their own youth players and a lack of defensive composure at the last to see a result through.
While some pride should be taken at producing such a staggeringly gifted player, this was a massive opportunity missed.
Starting XI: Fahrmann (6); Caligiuri (7), Bruma (7), Sane (5), Nastasic (7), Oczipka (6); Serdar (8), Bentaleb (8*), McKennie (8); Uth (7), Mendyl (7).
Substitutes: Burgstaller (7), Skrzybski (N/A), Harit (N/A)
STAR MAN - 20-year-old American Weston McKennie was impressively industrious in midfield, regularly winning the ball back for his side, but he still couldn't surpass goalscorer extraordinaire, penalty savant and Tottenham reject Nabil Bentaleb.
It's no easy feat to slot home two penalties in one game, but Bentaleb dispatched both with aplomb, and was an effective presence on and off the ball throughout the game.
Key Talking Point
Whatever you made of the VARse, you can't deny that City enabled Schalke to get back in the game. After dominating the opening 20 minutes or so, and creating chances they should've buried, they relaxed their pressing and slowly allowed the Bundesliga side back into the encounter.
They started the second half with a similar sense of urgency as to the initial stages, before they slumped into a trend of pressure without creating any true chances. When Otamendi was sent off, it looked like the nightmare scenario had reached its peak, but one moment of wondrous quality and one of fabulous confusion, and they had snatched the win, and most likely the tie.
Starting XI: Ederson (6); Walker (6), Fernandinho (5), Otamendi (2), Laporte (6); Gundogan (7), De Bruyne (6), D Silva (7); B Silva (7), Aguero (6), Sterling (7).
Sensational freekick from Sane. Bloody superb.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) February 20, 2019
Substitutes: Kompany (6), Sane (8*), Zinchenko (N/A).
STAR MAN - Few of Pep Guardiola's cohort performed with the quality they can, and it's hard to find an exception from the starting XI.
Bro Leroy sane is A GAME CHANGER ‼️‼️— x (@xavieribarra_26) February 20, 2019
Leroy Sane brought us back to life and things turned the other way through Sterling 💙💙💙💙🙌Manchester City unstoppable— Tonny antonnie (@tonny_antonnie) February 20, 2019
David Silva acquitted himself decently enough before he was sacrificed for Vincent Kompany upon Otamendi's sending off, but Leroy Sane's sensational moment of individual brilliance was ultimately the difference between the sides.
It's hard to imagine seeing a better free kick this European season, such was the accuracy and whip Sane generated. It was the set piece of your dreams, curling teasingly away from the keeper before kissing the post on it's way into the net. What a moment.
Schalke will allow their thoughts to return to retaining their Bundesliga status, with a key clash at Mainz on Saturday. Meanwhile, City's wait for Premier League action will continue, thanks to the welcome distraction of the EFL Cup Final against Chelsea this Sunday