Manchester City only need a point from their last two Champions League group games to qualify, but the way they fell away in the second half is hardly a confidence boost for the upcoming meeting with Liverpool.
Ederson, their goalkeeper, was removed at half-time only for his replacement, Claudio Bravo, to be sent off with nine minutes left for bringing down Josip Ilicic, leaving Kyle Walker to take the gloves. Ederson has a muscle problem in a thigh and Pep Guardiola does not know if his No 1 will be available for the trip to Anfield on Sunday. Given Bravo’s rush of blood – he is the first substitute goalkeeper to get a red card in the competition – the manager will surely not want to be without Ederson.
Guardiola made five changes from the win against Southampton on Saturday, notably leaving out John Stones and Sergio Agüero, perhaps with an eye on Liverpool. Atalanta’s Gewiss stadium in Bergamo does not meet Uefa regulations so this Group C match was staged at the San Siro, and their fans were vocal throughout.
What they saw at the start was an Ilkay Gündogan error lead to Hans Hateboer being found at the far post. Ederson was stranded but the midfielder failed to find the net.
Moments later City created a beautiful opener. Bernardo Silva moved along the left and drilled the ball in to Gabriel Jesus. He backheeled slickly to Raheem Sterling and the forward beat Pierluigi Gollini for his 18th goal of the campaign. The goal plus Atalanta’s penchant for attacking meant the contest was already open, which suits how Guardiola’s men like to play. Yet for a while they were loose. Benjamin Mendy spooned a pass to no one, Ederson kicked the ball out of play, and Jesus was dispossessed with ease.
This was partly due to Atalanta’s workrate, but when City suddenly pounced they came close to doubling the lead. Gündogan fed Riyad Mahrez and his cross from the right rolled before Gollini and would only have required a toe from Jesus – or someone else – to make it two.
Gündogan’s next act was to flick the ball to a galloping Kevin De Bruyne on the right. After advancing he pulled back to Sterling but his attempt was blocked by Hateboer. Soon City’s scorer was in along the same corridor but when he fired the ball across goal Bernardo Silva could not quite add the finish. Moments later, Jesus’s strength allowed him to tap on to Mahrez and following a burst of pace plus a drop of the shoulder his effort was saved low down to the left by Gollini.
Despite his side largely cruising Guardiola will have been frustrated at it still only being 1-0 at the interval, especially given what immediately preceded it. When Rafael Toloi pulled back Sterling the defender was booked and the referee, Aleksei Kulbakov, waited for a VAR check on a penalty.
Sterling was adjudged to have been outside the area and no penalty was awarded. But after his subsequent free-kick hit Ilicic’s arm the referee consulted a pitchside monitor and this time awarded a penalty. Jesus’s effort was dismal, however, missing the target to Gollini’s right.
Ederson was replaced for the second half by Bravo and there was an early test for the Chilean when Ilicic raced in behind, and while this came to nothing Bravo would be beaten soon afterwards.
Alejandro Gómez sprinted down the left and pinged a pinpoint cross on to Mario Pasalic’s head and he made no mistake. It was all very simple, and Jürgen Klopp, doubtlessly watching on Merseyside, may well have noted how easily City were breached.
Guardiola hopped around, urging his team to find an extra gear. Ederson’s removal, though, unsettled City. Suddenly the home team were spraying passes around and City were chasing and trying to regain control.
By the end they were hanging on, Walker thrown on following Bravo’s red card – a decision that took six minutes and VAR to arrive at. The right-back smiled as he pulled Bravo’s jersey on and his first act was to keep out a Ruslan Malinovskiy free-kick. Relief was City’s overriding emotion as they saw out a draw.