Josko Gvardiol secured a 1-1 draw for RB Leipzig in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Manchester City.
Riyad Mahrez gave City the lead before the half-hour, crowning a dominant opening from the Premier League champions.
But Leipzig emerged with renewed purpose after the break and halftime substitute Benjamin Henrichs twice went close before Croatia defender Gvardiol converted Marcel Halstenberg’s cross as City were caught napping from a short corner.
The Champions League last 16 has not been kind to Premier League teams so far, with Tottenham and Chelsea slipping to 1-0 defeats away from home against AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund respectively before Real Madrid hammered Liverpool 5-2 at Anfield.
RB Leipzig vs. Man City score
MCI — Riyad Mahrez (Ilkay Gundogan) — 27th minute.
RBL — Josko Gvardiol (Marcel Halstenberg) — 70th minute.
City looked certain to break that slump as they played with total authority during the first half. Guardiola sent out a more conventional back four than he has deployed in recent weeks but, in practice, Kyle Walker almost played as a right winger in possession and this was an unexpected threat Leipzig failed to deal with.
The knock-on from Walker’s placement was Mahrez being allowed to operate in-field, much closer to centre-forward Erling Haaland, and the goal was his reward for taking up these positions. Jack Grealish snaffled a slack pass from Xaver Schlager and found Ilkay Gundogan, whose deft backheel took Gvardiol out of the game and left Mahrez to rifle home his 12th of the season.
City were unable to make their dominance count further, with a Rodri header from a Mahrez corner just evading Haaland before the impressive Grealish curled narrowly over the top corner.
Marco Rose’s decision to introduce Henrichs at the break gave Leipzig extra attacking thrust and he headed off target before drilling a glorious chance just past the post.
Ederson was called upon to make a sharp save from Andre Silva and divert a Timo Werner cross away from Emil Forsberg.
Haaland belatedly got half a sight of goal when he shot wide from a tight angle on the end of a Grealish throughball but the man he sprinted past on that occasion, Gvardiol, got the goal at the other end after Ederson turned Dominik Szoboszlai’s drive over the bar.
Why did Pep Guardiola make no substitutions against RB Leipzig?
Guardiola became the first manager to make no substitutions whatsoever in a Champions League game since Jose Mourinho left Manchester United’s replacements in their tracksuits against Juventus in 2018. As Henrichs had a transformative influence on the game, it was a little perplexing to see the likes of Phil Foden and Julian Alvarez left in cold storage, especially as City lacked creative thrust with Kevin De Bruyne absent through injury. In turn, Haaland cut a frustrated figure.
But Guardiola would likely point towards him and his team playing the situation, and with some justification. The City boss has previously explained his reluctance to use substitutes in certain games because he is happy with the rhythm of his team and the overall pattern of the game. Leipzig’s equaliser came after a flurry of pressure and City have previously collapsed to twos and threes in Europe in such situations. Had Foden or Alvarez been thrown on to chase the game, that would have increased the risk of such a scenario unfolding again and there was no need for that with a second leg to come in Manchester.
Should VAR have given Man City a penalty?
Henrichs certainly put in an all-action performance, changing the entire feel of the contest. But he ended up being a danger to his own side, first scything through the back of Gundogan to pick up a yellow card before performing what looked like a sound piece of defensive volleyball when Rodri headed a stoppage-time corner towards goal. There was no penalty given and, it seemed initially, no VAR check (although Guardiola stated after the game that a check had been carried out). Perhaps everyone just wanted to go home at that point. Leipzig were the better team after halftime and worthy of a share of the spoils, but Henrichs certainly got away with one.
Ederson reminds Pep Guardiola of his quality
Ederson has been Manchester City’s undisputed No.1 since joining from Benfica in 2017 and is arguably Guardiola’s most important signing during his time at the Etihad Stadium. But there were murmurings before this game, albeit quiet ones, that it could be the right time to give impressive understudy Stefan Ortega a run. In their past four Premier League games, City have conceded from their first shot on target. There are no outright Ederson howlers in that sample size but his save percentage and xGA numbers do not make for pretty reading in 2022/23.
When Leipzig got on top after the interval, he stepped up with three fine stops from Andre Silva, Timo Werner and Dominik Szoboszlai. Leipzig scored immediately after he tipped the latter shot over the bar. Ederson had certainly earned better protection from his defence than he received.
RB Leipzig vs. Man City as it happened, highlights from the Champions League
Fulltime: Christopher Nkunku looks to have one last run at the City backline but Ruben Dias and Bernardo Silva stuff out the danger. That’s all we have time for. City were excellent before halftime and will probably be the happier of the sides with the result, in a round where all the other English teams have lost. Still, in a season where City have lacked their customary control. Over the past week, at Nottingham Forest and tonight, they have relocated that control and won neither match. Guardiola comes out onto the field and cajoles his players before they head over to take the applause of the travelling supporters.
90th minute+3: Final chance for City. Riyad Mahrez is over a corner on the left. He goes short to Ilkay Gundogan for a one-two, the lofted cross towards Rodri cannot be turned goalwards. Handball claims from the visiting players against Benjamin Henrichs are waves away.
90th minute: There will be two additional minutes.
89th minute: Benjamin Henrichs lunges through the back of Ilkay Gundogan and is the worthy recipient of the game’s first yellow card.