Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez scored in the 87th minute as the European champions clawed their way back from two goals down to beat RB Leipzig 3-2 and clinch the top spot in Champions League Group G on Tuesday with one round of matches remaining.
Erling Haaland and Phil Foden also netted in the second period after one of City’s most underwhelming recent first-half performances to give Pep Guardiola’s team 15 points after five games. Leipzig, which had also reached the last 16, has nine.
“First half was the worst I’ve seen us,” midfielder Foden told TNT. “Courage and motivation changed it around. This team has a great mentality and it’s so nice to see.”
Lois Openda pounced on a pair of City defensive blunders for both Leipzig goals, sprinting onto a long ball from goalkeeper Janis Blaswich that bounced over a lackadaisical Manuel Akanji in the 13th minute. He struck again with seemingly similar ease in the 33rd, spinning around Ruben Dias en route to scoring.
Haaland, who poured in five goals against Leipzig in a 7-0 rout in the Champions League last 16 in March, finally gave stunned City fans at the Etihad Stadium something to cheer in the 54th minute when he ran onto a pass from Foden and struck a low left-foot shot into the net.
“We just needed that (first) goal to get going,” Foden said. “Even the fans were a lot louder after the goal. Once the first went in the motivation was there. We’ve got a great record at the Etihad and it only takes one goal to change things.”
City levelled with Foden’s excellent first touch and finish in the 70th and Alvarez fired the hosts ahead when Foden’s pass was deflected into his path for a close-range effort.
Guardiola’s side narrowly avoided their first defeat in European competition at the Etihad since a group stage loss to Olympique Lyonnais in 2018, which was also the last time City trailed by two goals in the Champions League.
Three days after its 1-1 top-of-the-table Premier League draw with Liverpool, City looked like zombies through the first half, although it had a flurry of chances before the break, its best being Dias’s header over the bar.
It was Guardiola’s second comeback from a two-goal deficit in his Champions League managerial career after his Bayern Munich side rallied to beat Juventus in the 2016 quarterfinals.
City finishes the group stage at Red Star Belgrade on December 13.
Young Boys, who is third on four points, secured a place in the Europa League knockout round playoffs with a 2-0 win over Red Star. The Belgrade side is bottom with one point.
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