Agüero leveller in Lyon seals Champions League progress for Manchester City

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Jamie Jackson at Groupama Stadium- The Guardian

In the end this was a fine draw for Manchester City considering how Maxwel Cornet’s second goal nine minutes from time appeared to have grabbed the win only for Sergio Agüero to equalise almost instantly. The bottom line is Pep Guardiola’s men are through with a game to spare.

Still, all opponents should study how Lyon took the fight to England’s champions and came so close to another victory over them. City’s paper-thin rearguard were exposed as the forward raced in behind to restore Lyon’s lead – and this was the story of the visitors’ defence throughout.

Guardiola was as honest as ever about the quality City have to face against the continent’s finest sides. “Today the Champions League showed me again it’s a different competition,” he said.

“The players are better, when you press and you do something they make an extra pass. The demands are so high. When people say it’s easy in the Champions League you cannot imagine how confused they are. After losing the first game [to Lyon] it was not a surprise.”

He pointed out that domestic football offers a different kind of competition. “You can lose games in the Premier League and still have the rest to recover,” the manager said.

“Tonight we showed personality, we got the point that we needed. Qualifying for the last 16 means we can now play the Premier League and the cups and prepare ourselves for February [when it resumes].”

Guardiola made three changes as Fabian Delph, Nicolás Otamendi and Ilkay Gündogan dropped out for Aleksandr Zinchenko, John Stones and Riyad Mahrez.

Lyon’s headline news was the captain, Nabil Fekir, passing a fitness test on an abductor problem so he could take his place in a frontline alongside Cornet and Memphis Depay.

Lyon handed City their sole defeat this season in September’s reverse game and they were quick to show how they did it. Theirs was a fast and slick attack that could do to Guardiola’s men what they love doing to opponents.

A prime illustration came when Cornet found an unmarked Depay with the goal gaping, but he mis-hit terribly. City served their own warning via a move that featured David Silva driving at Lyon and swapping passes with Agüero to come close to skipping in behind – but the latter’s touch was too heavy.

After Fernandinho was booked for upending Depay, Guardiola’s men did pin Lyon back for a time but, then, they should have conceded.

The lightning-quick Ferland Mendy outstripped Kyle Walker and pinged a cross over from the left. Cornet dawdled and still had time to beat Ederson yet Aymeric Laporte somehow intervened and City escaped.

Cornet roved along the right corridor and exposed City once more and Walker was relieved to chest the ball to the safety of Ederson. By half-time this had been an entertaining, open affair, in which City had hardly threatened Anthony Lopes’s goal.

Guardiola, moreover, may have questioned his defence regarding how Cornet was allowed to scissor-kick a volley off Ederson’s bar under no pressure. When the whistle finally blew City were relieved to still have parity. By this stage the latter’s shape was a more fluid, three centre-backs one, with Zinchenko in midfield when in possession.

Yet the same disconnect hampered them when moving forward as the usually sublime Silva hit a pass awry when Agüero would have been in. So desperate were they to pose Lopes some manner of problem that Raheem Sterling resorted to a speculative shot and this went wide.

Even when winning a rare corner Leroy Sané’s short stab to Silva ended in the latter ceding the ball and Lyon breaking.

The next time Bruno Genesio’s side moved forward they undid City with ease.

Depay collected along the left and looked up and found the right ball in. This came to Cornet and after a moment to steady himself he beat Ederson with a sweet 20-yard shot.

It had been coming all evening. City’s response came instantly as Lopes beat Agüero’s attempt out and Sané got in behind, but no teammate could get on the end of his cross from the left.

All of this had Guardiola pacing his area and he was about to turn in jubilation. Sterling hit a free-kick over from the right and this time Lyon were slumbering and Laporte equalised with a header.

Each side might have claimed the win in what was a frantic finish. Now all that remains is which of these two sides tops the group standings – with City needing only a point to be sure of this.

 

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