LEIPZIG, Germany — Crisis? What crisis?
Manchester City have lost consecutive games only five times during Pep Guardiola’s reign as manager and only once did it turn into three in a row.
RB Leipzig could have doubled that statistic on Wednesday in the Champions League, which came after Man City’s back-to-back defeats to Newcastle and Wolves. As Leipzig scored just after halftime, it looked possible — but instead Guardiola’s team safely navigated their most difficult Group G away game with a 3-1 win.
Just like that, everything is back to normal for Man City.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga & more (U.S.)
– Read on ESPN+: Sportswashing PSG, Newcastle can learn from each other
The reigning Champions League winners have made a habit of cruising through the group stage of this competition, reaching at least the knockout rounds in each of the last 10 years. After picking up six points from two games, they remain on course to do it again.
Man City centreback Rúben Dias said on Tuesday that the “only thing more beautiful than one Champions League is two,” a nod that City are already thinking about repeating after they lifted the trophy in Istanbul in June.
“I’m really satisfied,” said Guardiola after Wednesday’s win. “It was a tough game. Three or four days ago, it was not good because we lost to Wolves. It was important to break that…
“I rely on these guys unconditionally, winning or not winning, because I know in training the mentality they have. Hopefully we can arrive in March, April, May being there close to the competitions. I have a feeling we will not be an easy opponent to beat.”
City lost the experience of midfielder Ilkay Gündogan and winger Riyad Mahrez over the summer, and captain Kevin De Bruyne has been ruled out with a hamstring injury until the new year. But it’s meant youngsters like Phil Foden and Rico Lewis are able to take on a more central role. The pair, both graduates from City’s academy, were the best players on the pitch in the first half.
Foden, playing centrally in the absence of De Bruyne, almost set up an early goal for Bernardo Silva — back in the team after injury — with a pass that skidded across the Leipzig goal, but then he found the net himself 10 minutes later on.
Lewis, also playing high up in midfield, bounced passes off Silva, carried on running, and then crossed for Foden to bounce his finish into the net.
Lewis is still only 18, but for large periods of the first half he was running the game against one of the best teams in the Bundesliga. Foden’s ability to drift into the gaps in Leipzig’s lines and take possession in tight areas made it easier than it should have been. But it was still a night when Lewis out-shone the other young midfielder on show, 20-year-old Xavi Simons on loan at Leipzig from Paris Saint-Germain.
“He played good, eh?” said Guardiola, when asked about Lewis’ impact. “What a player. What a player — 18 years old. I’ve been a manager for years, training unbelievable players, to find a player like him in the pockets, he is one of the best I’ve ever trained.
“I’ve spoken to the others and they like him. When you win, you gain the respect of your mates. That’s more important than the media or whatever. If your mates can rely on you, you are in heaven. That’s the most important thing.
“He has it and that’s the key point. They know they can rely on him. When you play inside you have 360 degrees [vision] and it is the most difficult position to play. He’s a big talent. He deserves all the praise.”
It looked for a while in the second half that, just like in the last-16 tie here in February, City’s good start would be canceled out by a Leipzig comeback after half-time but even when Erling Haaland — who has now gone five Champions League games without a goal — isn’t as sharp as usual, Guardiola still has the luxury of bringing on a World Cup winner in Julián Álvarez.
In just 11 minutes on the pitch after coming on at 1-1, the Argentinian scored a stunner, curling his finish into the top corner from a tight space in the penalty area, and then raced away to lay on the third goal for Jérémy Doku in stoppage time.
“In 10 or 15 minutes, his impact is massive,” said Guardiola. “A player who is a world champion, it’s because he’s a good player. It was an outstanding goal.”
One of the things that makes City so formidable is that even when not everyone is quite at their best, there always seems to be someone who is.
Between them, Foden, Lewis and Alvarez were enough to make sure there was never any realistic possibility of a third defeat in a row and ensured Guardiola and his players head to Arsenal on Sunday with normality restored.