Leipzig 1-1 Man City: Champions League favourites held thanks to towering Gvardiol header
Josko Gvardiol’s second-half header cancelled out Riyad Mahrez’s opener as Manchester City drew their Champions League last-16 first leg 1-1 at RB Leipzig.
Just as in Saturday’s Premier League draw at Nottingham Forest, City could have been out of sight after Mahrez had given them a 27th-minute lead in this last-16 first-leg tie.
But Pep Guardiola’s side failed to make possession and pressure count once more, and Gvardiol’s equaliser 20 minutes from time provided another reminder that chances must be taken.
Erling Haaland, Jack Grealish and Ilkay Gundogan all had openings to punish hosts who were there for the taking in an embarrassingly one-sided first half.
But Haaland, the former Borussia Dortmund striker, struggled to make an impact on his return to Germany and touched the ball just seven times in the first period.
Illness had prevented Kevin De Bruyne and Aymeric Laporte from travelling to Germany, while Phil Foden dropped to the bench after the Forest draw.
Mahrez, Manuel Akanji and Nathan Ake were promoted as Leipzig named Chelsea-bound Christopher Nkunku on the bench after a recent ankle injury. Former Chelsea forward Timo Werner led the Leipzig line.
City had lost only one of their 17 matches against German opposition in the Champions League – a dead rubber group defeat at Leipzig last season – and began confidently by enjoying long periods of possession.
Kyle Walker operated more as a right winger than a right-back as the hosts, fifth in the Bundesliga and beaten only once in 20 games, struggled to get out of their own half.
Leipzig must have felt dizzy as Ruben Dias met a Mahrez corner to head straight at goalkeeper Janis Blaswich and Rodri rifled over from 20 yards.
A City goal simply had to come, but when it did it was of Leipzig’s own making.
Xaver Schlager played a careless pass and Grealish, who had previously come off the left flank to good effect on a couple of occasions, was infield and on the loose ball in a flash.
Grealish directed his pass towards the edge of the box where it went through the legs of Gundogan and Mahrez superbly swept home – the Algerian’s 16th Champions League goal for City.
It could have got worse for Leipzig as the impressive Bernardo Silva set up Grealish and then Rodri headed wide from a corner.
City goalkeeper Ederson finally saw action in first-half added time to make a routine stop from Werner, but the attempt would not have counted anyway as the assistant’s flag was raised.
Leipzig were brighter after the restart but were almost punished when Ake pinched the ball from Dominik Szoboszlai.
Gundogan reached the byline and found Mahrez but this time his effort was blocked.
Leipzig had sent on Benjamin Henrichs at the interval and the full-back spurned two chances to equalise, first heading over before sidefooting wide from 14 yards when completely unmarked.
Werner was also left unchecked to deliver a cross that the diving Ederson pushed away and City’s growing concern was reflected by Guardiola rising from his dugout seat to issue instructions.
Ederson was also quick off his line to deny Andre Silva as Leipzig sensed there might be a route back into the contest.
Nkunku joined the fray with 25 minutes left but Haaland instantly menaced at the other end, the Norwegian’s scuffed finish failing to match the pace that had taken him past Gvardiol.
Szoboszlai tested Ederson from distance but Leipzig levelled when Gvardiol headed home Marcel Halstenberg’s cross.
City insisted that the Croatian central defender had fouled Dias, but those claims fell on deaf ears.
Another late appeal for a penalty – when Henrichs appeared to handle – were also ignored to leave the return leg at the Etihad Stadium delicately poised.
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