If Pep Guardiola was feeling somewhat anxious after losing Ederson to a thigh injury at half-time here, the Manchester City manager will doubtless be braced for several sleepless nights ahead of Sunday’s top of the table clash against Liverpool given what followed on an extraordinary night of goalkeeping chaos.
Claudio Bravo has never given City fans much cause for reassurance and the sight of the Chile goalkeeper being sent off just 36 minutes after replacing Ederson after his latest rush of blood to the head will have sent shivers down spines ahead of the trip to Merseyside.
City ended a dramatic evening against Atalanta with their right-back, Kyle Walker, in net after Bravo’s red card and, should Ederson fail to recover in time, Liverpool may feel emboldened by the prospect of a goalkeeper who last started a league game 18 months ago entering the Anfield caudron on the back of such a hapless showing.
Guardiola did his best to put on a brave face, insisting Bravo would be “ready” for Liverpool if called upon and that he trusted the veteran 36-year-old, but the prospect of being without Ederson for their biggest game of the season to date would be a huge kick in the teeth. And Guardiola’s frustration will have been compounded by his team’s failure to make more of their first half dominance, with Atalanta granted a reprieve when Gabriel Jesus missed a penalty moments before half-time.
“I don’t know right now,” the City manager said when asked if Ederson - who was limping when he left the San Siro - would be fit to face Liverpool. “It is a muscular problem. It was not big but to avoid more risk. He did not feel comfortable in the last minutes of the first half. That’s why we decided to make a substitution. But, at the moment, we don’t know.
“Claudio’s ready. He’s an incredible, experienced professional. He’s ready.”
Perhaps he will be, but he did not look ready here and, in truth, he has seldom convinced in City colours. Bravo had only been on the field four minutes when he was forced to pick the ball out of the net after Mario Pasalic, on loan from Chelsea, cancelled out Raheem Sterling’s first half strike.
Bravo could do little about the goal, which owed more to Nicolas Otamendi’s failure to cut out Alejandro Gomez’s cross and the space afforded Pasalic by City’s defence to head home. But only Bravo will know what was going through his head when he careered out of his penalty area in the 81st minute in a bid to thwart Josip Ilicic only to fell the Atalanta striker.
Ilicic, who risked being cleaned out by Bravo, seemed to jump as much for his own protection as anything and his trailing leg caught the Chilean’s head as he fell. Referee Aleksei Kulbakov wasted no time brandishing a red card and, even after it had been approved by the video assistant referee, Bravo initially refused to leave the field in the belief, wrongly, that the decision was still being reviewed. He becomes the first substitute goalkeeper in Champions League history to be sent off.
“It was given so it’s a red card,” Guardiola said. “If Ederson is ready, he is going to play. If not, we will play Claudio. We trust him. Why should I doubt any players I have in my squad?”
Walker’s first task was to keep out the resulting free-kick from Ruslan Malinovskyi, which he managed at the second attempt. The England defender sometimes takes part in City’s goalkeeper training sessions so he was the obvious choice to replace Bravo. “I think it was a little bit of both,” Walker said when asked if he was appointed or volunteered for the job. “Sometimes I criticise our goalkeepers for not catching the ball in training but as I found tonight that sometimes you have to take two touches!”
This was an enthralling game in all respects and Guardiola had a point when he likened playing Atalanta to a “trip to the dentist”. City could have been out of sight after an impressive first half display but Jesus’s missed penalty opened the door for the Italians, who were much improved after the interval and buoyed by a cacophonous atmosphere, despite the San Siro being barely a third full.
"Thank you Kyle!" ��
"I wind up the keepers in training telling them to catch it. I found out tonight you sometimes need two touches!" ��
Kyle Walker talks @DesKellyBTS through his goalkeeping heroics... pic.twitter.com/VcycNAUeBQ
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) November 6, 2019
Sterling had put City in front with his 18th goal in 20 appearances for club and country this season, a stunning team goal that involved Jesus backheeling Bernardo Silva’s pinpoint pass into the path of the England forward to score. With Bernardo given licence to roam in a nominal 4-4-2, City were a blur of movement and had chances to extend their lead before Jesus missed from 12 yards.
City were actually awarded a penalty before then but the VAR overruled Kulbakov after deciding Rafael Toloi’s tug on Sterling occurred outside the penalty area. Atalanta’s relief did not last long, though. From the resulting free-kick by Sterling, the ball hit the outstretched arm of Ilicic. Kulbakov missed it but, upon reviewing the incident, awarded a penalty and booked Ilicic only for Jesus to shank his spot-kick wide.
The real twists and turns on a chaotic night, though, were still to come.
A game of two halves
When Jesus hit that awful penalty wide just before the break you never thought it would be a crucial miss, but it was.
The second half saw a completely different Atalanta, and the hosts were well worth the point. Bravo got himself sent-off and fortunately for City Atalanta were never able to test Kyle Walker in the goal.
City missed Ederson in goal, but credit to the Italians who tested Guardiola's side.
City do not qualify tonight, but need only a point next time out against Shakhtar, who drew 3-3 against Dinamo Zagreb tonight - a match that saw two red cards.
FULL-TIME: Atalanta 1-1 Man City
Still Atalanta cannot get a shot in on Walker. City play keep-ball in the opposition half, and away from any trouble for Walker.
Aguero wins a corner and that's it.
95 mins - Atalanta 1-1 Man City
A late corner for City and all they can win in a throw on...
City look like they are playing for the draw now.
93 mins - Atalanta 1-1 Man City
With Walker in goal it's strange the hosts aren't shooting from distance. Instead they are failing to put pressure on the right back in goal by dishing up easy-to-defend crosses.
91 mins - Atalanta 1-1 Man City
Atalanta waste a chance from a good position in the final third, the ball going long rather than into the danger area. A let off for City.
89 mins - Atalanta 1-1 Man City
Seven minutes of injury time for City to either hang on (more likely going on the past 45 mins) or grab a late winner.
Bravo's moment of madness
84 mins - Atalanta 1-1 Man City
Walker has never been in goal before and his first task is to stop the resulting free-kick low at his feet. That action means he has already saved more shots than Bravo in this match!
RED CARD for Bravo! Atalanta 1-1 Man City
Trouble for City - Bravo has been sent off!
Gundogan loses the ball in midfield and IIicic bears down on the City goal, Bravo rushes out of goal and brings out the Atalanta striker outside of the area. The referee shows the City keeper the red card. It goes to VAR to check if there was contact, the video buffs say there was and Bravo is off!
Kyle Walker comes on (after an age) for Mahrez and is the outfield player to don the gloves (no other keeper on the bench!) and goes in goal!
It's not going City's way
76 mins - Atalanta 1-1 Man City
As if to sum up City's second half De Bruyne, of all players, boots a ball into touch, missing his intended destination, the feet of Cancelo, by a good 10 feet.
74 mins - Atalanta 1-1 Man City
City haven't really been in this half. It's a very different Atalanta team they are facing.
Aguero comes on for Jesus, can he change things?
72 mins - Atalanta 1-1 Man City
A free-kick is whipped in from Atalanta and the ball goes right across the City box. Djimsiti looked for all the world like he could have headed that into the goal but, inexplicably, he cannot get anything on it.
69 mins - Atalanta 1-1 Man City
Fernandinho gives away a free-kick wide on the right - he sees a yellow for his trouble - from the resulting set piece Bravo punches the ball away.
A moment later the keeper is forced into back-pedalling as a cross nearly creeps into the net.
Nervous times for City at the moment.
67 mins - Atalanta 1-1 Man City
Mahrez and De Bruyne both play good balls into the box but no one can get on the end of either cross and you sense Pep will make a change soon.
All to play for
64 mins - Atalanta 1-1 Man City
At last a good chance for the visitors. Sterling is played on but stumbles at the last moment and hits a feeble cross-cum-shot at the keeper.
62 mins - Atalanta 1-1 Man City
City look a complete different side this half, they are struggling to keep possession and create chances. Their movement and passing hasn't been as quick or sharp as it was.
60 mins - Atalanta 1-1 Man City
Gundogan gives away a free-kick in his own half, as if to illustrate that City have not got into a rhythm this half. Atalanta are having a period of sustained pressure and are playing with real confidence. They win a corner and the crowd, noisy to begin with, go up a few decibels.
The set-piece comes in and a Djimsiti heaader just goes wide - another warning sign for City.
57 mins - Atalanta 1-1 Man City
Atalanta are playing with more energy, Gomez is further forward and they are asking questions of the City side in a way that didn't look like it was possible in the first half.
54 mins - Atalanta 1-1 Man City
Bravo is the last man and is forced to head clear outside of his box after Atalanta play another long ball over the top. This is a different game this half.
51 mins - Atalanta 1-1 Man City
This wasn't in the script for City, they are up against a resurgent Atalanta and they pick up the pace in the opposition half. Mahrez gets on the end of a brilliant Cancello through ball and wins a corner. The resulting set piece goes straight to Gollini in the hosts' goal.
GOAL! Pasalic scores - Atalanta 1-1 Man City
City are caught out on the left and Gomez puts in a beaut of a cross and Pašalić directs a bullet header into the top corner. The hosts look reborn and it's the first goal City have conceded from open play in Europe this campaign.
City now have a game on their hands.
46 mins - Atalanta 0-1 Man City
City fans can breathe a sigh of relief as apparently Ederson wasn't suffering from boredum, rather he has a 'minor' injury and has been taken off as a precaution with Liverpool to face on Sunday.
45 mins - Atalanta 0-1 Man City
We're back underway at the San Siro, can City get another goal, kill the game and qualify for the last-16 sooner rather than later?
One piece of team news is that Ederson is off and Bravo is now in the City goal - we're not sure why Ederson is not returning, there was no indication anything was wrong with him in the first half - the only thing it looked like he was suffering from was boredom.
There are no changes from the hosts.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) November 6, 2019
Jesus look away now...
Here's the poor penalty.
HALF-TIME: Atalanta 0-1 Man City
The drama over the penalty that wasn't then the one that was - all taking place in a two-minute period - lifted what was a pretty drab match played at half-pace from the humdrum to the slightly interesting.
Even without Jesus' horrendous penalty it should have been at least 2 or 3-0 to City. You get the feeling Pep will be annoyed that the match isn't already out of sight for his side. Get an early goal and put the match out of sight will be the order from the City dressing room.
45 mins - Atalanta 0-1 Man City
The hosts, shock horror, have a bit of sustained pressure which results in a free-kick on the edge of the area. IIicic fires the ball wide, but it hit a City player and goes for a corner. Nothing materialises and the ref blows for half-time.
MISSED PENALTY! Jesus hits spotkick well wide
A stupid challenge from Toloi sees Sterling fall in the area and it's a penalty. Well it was a spotkick, but VAR works well (for once) and its changed to a free-kick as the tug on the shirt initially took place outside the box. Sterling fires right at the wall and Atalanta survive again...
The City players appeal for a handball and it's back to VAR!
The referee Kulbakov looks at the screen and it is, this time, a penalty.
Jesus then takes an awful spotkick - hitting the ball a good foot wide of the left upright...he won't want to see that again.
38 mins - Atalanta 0-1 Man City
Whenever they have the ball - which isn't a lot of the time - Atalanta cannot get in behind City.
As if you didn't need more great Sterling stats...
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) November 6, 2019
35 mins - Atalanta 0-1 Man City
Mahrez goes close shooting from the edge of the area forcing Gollini into a good save, low to his left.
34 mins - Atalanta 0-1 Man City
Ederson has something to do! The keeper scampering out of his goal to get on the end of a good throughball from Castagne. That will prevent any ideas of him falling asleep.
32 mins - Atalanta 0-1 Man City
This time Bernardo Silva nearly gets a goal, the ball going agonisingly across the box without the Portuguese getting on the end of Sterling's pass.
30 mins - Atalanta 0-1 Man City
That should have been 2-0. De Bruyne gets to the byline and pulls it back to Sterling who takes a bit too much time on the ball allowing the Atalanta defence to get a block in. From the resulting corner Gündoğan fire high and wide.
28 mins - Atalanta 0-1 Man City
Sorry to sound like a broken record but the Atalanta players are chasing shadows and you cannot see them keeping up this effort without City adding more to the scoresheet.
This is the dictionary definition of 'training ground' match.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 6, 2019
25 mins - Atalanta 0-1 Man City
I feel for City keeper Ederson - he has had nothing to do - he coudl do with an iPad to keep him entertained. The hosts look really insipid.
23 mins - Atalanta 0-1 Man City
Atalanta lose the ball in the final third - not exactly what they need to do - and Mahrez strikes across goal with Sterling diving in at the far post but is unable to get the important touch.
19 mins - Atalanta 0-1 Man City
It's a bit training groundy currently. But as if to lift the match from the mere humdrum Mahrez displays a touch of the gods, plucking a cross from the air with his left boot and eventually wins a corner from which nothing materialises.
17 mins - Atalanta 0-1 Man City
It's a bit scrappy right now. The hosts are committing a fair few fouls and the contest is a bit stop-start as a result. Little to report at the moment.
15 mins - Atalanta 0-1 Man City
You get the feeling the pattern for the rest of the match has already been set - City are seeing most of the ball and Atalanta are chasing shadows at the moment.
10 mins - Atalanta 0-1 Man City
City have maintained their record of scoring in every away match this season, and it's keepball for them at the moment, just waiting for the throughball to once again open up the hosts who are struggling to get the ball now.
8 mins - Atalanta 0-1 Man City
City by the way are in their early 1990s tribute, florescent kit and as I type De Bruyne plays a delightful cross which Jesus should have volleyed first time. He doesn't and a good chance goes begging.
City look like they can score a sack load tonight.
What every City fan is shouting right now
— Manchester City (@ManCity) November 6, 2019
GOAL - Sterling scores! Atalanta 0-1 Man City
City's first real attack, Sterling starts the move and carries on his run, Jesus backheals it to him in the area and City's man of the moment passes the ball into the back of the net.
That was all too easy.
5 mins - Atalanta 0-0 Man City
The stadium is only a third full, with the CIty fans stuck in the rafters - Atalanta look sound in defence at the moment, getting back into a decent shape when City have the ball.
2 mins - Atalanta 0-0 Man City
Atalanta see the ball for an extended period in the other half, they're knocking the ball around well but come up against a resolute City defence.
They then press again and a cross from the left see City outnumbered at the far post and Hateboer volleys wide - he should have done much better than that.
1 min - Atalanta 0-0 Man City
We're underway and the early exchanges see the hosts pinned in their own half - a sign of things to come?
Name that tune...
Why it's the slightly nauseating Champions League theme tune, of course, which means we're moments away from kick-off at the San Siro.
Pep's pre-match chat...
On possible qualification tonight.
"We want to qualify as quick as possible but the focus is to play well against a good team."
On the injury list.
"We cannot deny we have a few problems, but it is what it is. But I trust my players."
On Sunday's Liverpool match.
"It hasn't played a part in my selection tonight, the Champions League is important for us."
Atalanta reveal their cards
As expected their star man Duvan Zapata doesn't feature. The Colombian striker, who was second top of the Serie A goalscoring table last season, is out with a thigh injury picked up on international duty.
Atalanta starting XI - Gollini (GK), Tolói, Palomino, Gómez, Freuler, De Roon, Djimsiti, Castagne, Hateboer, Iličić, Pašalić
Through the (dressing room) keyhole...
Here's me doing my best Lloyd Grossman impression by posting this City tweet...
— Manchester City (@ManCity) November 6, 2019
As if to further underline the task facing Atalanta this evening here's a couple of stats for them to look at, appreciate and doubtless gulp at...
Guardiola's side have won 11 of their last 18 European matches, home and away – losing six.
Away from home it is five wins in eight matches (D1 L2), both defeats coming in England; the last game they lost abroad was at Shakhtar
Sublime San Siro
Tonight's match is being played at one of football's most famous cathedrals - Inter and AC Milan's San Siro.
The reason being that Atalanta's own ground not meeting UEFA requirements.
HURRAH to that, I say, as despite some people not being huge fans of the stadium (apparently the views aren't great low down and a hard-to-please friend of mine described it as 'underwhelming'...) it is one of the great arenas, especially when watching from up in the gods.
Pep is excited his side are playing there.
“It’s a legendary ground in Italy, in Europe and around the world,” the City manager said. “It is a special place to play football."
Here's a gratuitous shot of the San Siro from the 1990 World Cup, the upper tier of the stadium added for that memorable tournament.
City side named
Pep was true to his word and has, as promised named a strong starting XI.
Sergio Aguero starts on the bench with Jesus taking to the pitch, with Kyle Walker also named as sub, but bar that it's as strong a side as he could probably have named.
�� Here's how we line-up tonight in Italy!
XI | Ederson, Cancelo, Fernandinho (C), Otamendi, Mendy, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Bernardo, Mahrez, Sterling, G Jesus.
SUBS | Bravo, Walker, Stones, Aguero, Angelino, E Garcia, Doyle.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) November 6, 2019
If the City boss was ever anything but extremely intense you'd be wise to worry, call him a doctor and hope he's alright. Despite City being in a commanding position at the top of Group C with qualification all but assured AND the small matter of a top-of-the-table clash against Liverpool on Sunday, the Spaniard said he won't name a weakened side tonight.
“I want to qualify as soon as possible; I am not thinking about rotating. I go game by game," Guardiola said.
“Try to win, to be already there (in the last 16) one more year - that would be incredible.
"[This] is the most important game. Try to play good, and after the next one."
Added to that the City boss also promised to play open, attractive football - well attractive football at least.
"It’s still the same as always. I try to attack and defend always. Ultimately, I try to entertain the public and play an attacking style of football," he said.
On the face of it there is only one possible result this evening: a simple, run-of-the-mill City victory, won with the moneybags club barely getting out of second gear.
Pep Guardiola's men are top of their group with maximum nine points and 10 goals scored, with the Italians bottom after conceding 11 goals and scoring just two.
When the sides faced each other last time out City strolled to a 5-1 victory courtesy, in part, thanks to a Raheem Sterling hat-trick. City have won their past seven matches in all competitions, while Atalanta lost 2-0 at home to Cagliari at the weekend. So I am hardly being Nostradamus when I predict an easy win for the Premier League outfit.
But in a bid to get you lot excited by what I fear may be a non-event, I'll now try to sell you this European clash.
Atalanta are no mugs, they finished third in Serie A last season - their highest finish since 1996 - and straight after their humbling by Pep's players last time out got a touch of the 'Citys' when they thrashed lowly Udinese 7-1.
BUT that's about as much positive mental attitude I can summon for the Italian outfit, not least because Pep has promised not to play a weakened side, injuries to David Silva, Phil Foden and Rodri forcing his hand.
City will qualify with a win and despite their horrific start of three defeats in three matches Atalanta can theoretically still make it to the knockout stages - unlikely but, in theory (in the same way as I could theoretically still walk on the moon), possible.
The Italians are, however, talking the talk and understandably and wisely refusing to fly the white flag before kick-off tonight. The side's Brazilian defender Rafael Toloi said: "We've earned to the right to play such opponents. "They have super players, Sterling is very fast, so we'll have to be aggressive and very careful in the markings. We know that with our fans at home we can do well."
Good luck to them, I say.
More pre-match news, quotes and the line-ups coming your way in the next hour.