A Kyle Walker sending off summed up a night of chaos for Manchester City, as the Premier League side succumbed to a 2-1 defeat to RB Leipzig in the Champions League.
In what was a rare disjointed display by a surprisingly strong Manchester City side, goals from Dominik Szoboszlai and Andre Silva sufficed to secure the Germans Europa League football for 2022.
There’s always a bright side and credit goes to Riyad Mahrez for racking up his ninth goal in his last 10 Champions League games. But all in all, Manchester City were uncharacteristically sloppy across all departments, on a mind-numbingly drab night.
Yet, there was a lot to unpack from the contest and here’s what we learned!
A night to forget for the CFA
A Champions League dead rubber is the most elaborate excuse for a kick-about. It’s still Europe’s most elite competition but for once, it isn’t all or nothing.
That’s usually where you let the likes of Cole Palmer, James McAtee, Romeo Lavia, Josh Wilson-Esbrand and CJ Egan-Riley spread their wings for the club they have come to call home.
A night where if a newfound gem recreates Palmer’s brilliance against Club Brugge, that’s one of the stories of the season - and if not, they’re still rubbing shoulders with an up-and-coming European juggernaut in the Champions League.
For instance, putting McAtee and De Bruyne as City’s creative partners in crime would have ticked the boxes of starting an academy graduate alongside one of the game’s finest, while giving an out-of-sorts senior player an essential 90 minutes to click back into gear.
Instead, a mere six-minute Cole Palmer cameo was a sight that aligned with the painful viewing at hand.
No Bernardo-Gundo-Rodri, No Party
Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri being on the same pitch is gospel. Break the band and you break the spine that holds this Manchester City team together; it really is that black and white.
Time waits for no man, and Fernandinho at 36 years of age isn’t an exception, as characterised by a clumsy outing, both on and off the ball. In Rodri, we’re witnessing the rebirth of Sergio Busquets- a number six that dictates the tempo of a game while being unquestionably flawless defensively.
If Bernardo Silva's displays require an explanation at this point, you haven’t been watching this sport enough. With Kevin De Bruyne getting back up to speed after a barrage of fitness issues, he’s bound to be hit and miss in equal measure, while City’s trusted midfield trio have made perfection a habit this season.
From the lack of security in possession to an immensely uncoordinated press, the Sky Blues' midfield was all over the place with even Gundogan having a clanger of an evening for a change.
Well, at least Bernardo Silva and Rodri were wrapped in cotton wool, so life is good.
For once, the press looked like a pressing concern
Elaborating on Manchester City’s disjointed press, Pep Guardiola made a slight tactical tweak that may have gone under the radar and forgivably so, considering the contest was the definition of a dead rubber.
But keeping that aside, it was noticeable that the usual 4-4-2 shape as the side’s deep block was dumped aside for a bizarre iteration of a 4-2-4, with Jack Grealish, Riyad Mahrez, Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden all pushed up top.
RB Leipzig played through City’s callous press like child’s play, leaving the likes of Gundogan and Fernandinho with it all to do against an army of opposition attackers. Bypass the double pivot and Achim Beierlorzer’s troops had the visitors’ defence with their backs to the wall at all times.
This wasn’t a surprise, considering Guardiola’s two stand-out pressers in Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus were not on the pitch, compounded by City’s rather unfamiliar midfield makeup on the night, as discussed.
However, this shouldn’t keep you up at night because best believe, it’s business as usual against Wolves.
Kyle Walker, WYD?
If the talking point at the end of a dead rubber is a sending off, someone missed the memo. I'm looking at you, Kyle Walker. To kick out at Andre Silva was bizarre enough but, in a contest where there is nothing at stake, we continue to scratch our heads.
Arguably City’s most reliable asset has kissed a guaranteed start in a Champions League round of 16 tie goodbye, which is a sizeable blow without question.
Neymar and Kylian Mbappe can attest to how defensively astute 'Walks' is, and for Pep Guardiola to not have his right-hand man in contention to start proceedings in a European knock-out fixture is a worrying prospect.
It was just daft, to really summarise it, but a consummate professional like Kyle Walker knows that better than anyone else.
City got this one out of their system
Just a quick reminder: Manchester City are sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League while finishing top of their Champions League group - despite squaring up to English football’s crème-de-la-crème as well as a PSG outfit whose superstars need no introduction.
Context really is key and an off night in a tie that accounted for nothing isn’t one worth writing essays for tweets in disarray. Sure, the likes of John Stones and Jack Grealish will be sat thinking they’re so much better than their performances at the Red Bull Arena.
But it’s advisable to take the Kyle Walker route and pretend like this tie never happened. Off nights happen to the best of us and obsessing over tonight simply isn’t worth the hassle.
Expect normal services to resume shortly as the Manchester City juggernaut will be as on-brand as can be by taking care of business once again.
You can follow us for live updates here: @City_Xtra