Twenty minutes into Manchester City's crucial home Champions League match against Bayern Munich on Tuesday, it looked like everything had broken right for the English champions. Earlier in the day, in the other matchup in City's group, Roma somehow contrived to draw a game they really should've won, greatly expanding the possible scenarios for City to advance. Then, not even halfway through the first half of their own match against Bayern Munich, the Sky Blues' one-man SEAL team, Sergio Agüero, managed to bait Bayern defender Mehdi Benatia into a rash last-man tackle in the box, leading to a straight red and a penalty kick. With a 1-0 lead against the shorthanded Bavarians and a wide open second-place spot in the group, the skies looked as clear as their kits. And then City tried the damnedest to fuck everything up.
From kick-off, Bayern Munich looked every bit the indestructible Leviathan they've shown themselves to be in recent years. Their three forwards—Robert Lewandowski, Franck Ribéry, and Arjen Robben—wriggled and flicked the ball between each other and through City's worryingly-susceptible defense into dangerous areas around the goal. Even after the red card, Bayern bossed the game. Over the course of the match, the Germans had more possession, completed almost 150 more passes, and got just as many shots on target as Man City.
One of said shots on target was Xabi Alonso's 40th minute equalizer, a little sidewinder of a free kick that completely blinded Joe Hart while curving along the grass and into the bottom of his net. If the tying goal reminded City that there was still a fight on for the points, Lewandowski's shoulder-shot five minutes later seemed to announce that this one was already over. Former City defender Jérôme Boateng—one of the handful of young defensive misses blighting Manchester's transfer record—looped a beautiful cross into the box, where his teammate Lewandowki had out-muscled Bacary Sagna and got enough of his clavicle onto the ball to send it past Hart.
Whether it's a sad reflection on this struggling Man City's hangover of a season or a testament to Bayern's indomitable playing style now that they've fully taken to Guardiola-ball, the match felt over heading into halftime. Even with a man down, their one goal lead felt insurmountable for much of the contest.
As opposed to most coaches, losing a man in the Guardiola system isn't cause for a complete abandonment of the original match strategy in favor of sitting deep and thwacking the ball clear whenever it gets too close to the keeper's area. Instead, his teams become even more committed to short-passing, triangulated movement, and carefully-timed strikes than they are at full strength. The players focus on those accurate short passes, becoming more conservative in attack, but still able to slice open the defense with well-timed, incisive passes. Watching the frantic City players charge down a clump of FCB players in an effort to win the ball back, only to be continually evaded by the clock-like synchronicity of Bayern's shifts of movement and pokes of the ball, was a thing of beauty.
This strategy, however, has its risks. Even a team boasting as much technical quality as Bayern does will err at times, which can be fatal when short a player. The tide began to change around the 70 minute mark, when two things started happening: City's incessant pressing started resulting in turnovers and quick counterattacks against their opponent's high and exposed back line, and Sergio Agüero started playing like Sergio Agüero.
The first crucial error of Bayern's was an all-too-casual chip back to his defense by a deep-lying Xabi Alonso. Stevan Jovetić was able to deflect the pass out of the air with a raised foot, and the resulting redirection fell perfectly into the path of the onrushing Agüero and between Bayern's wide-split center backs. Agüero simply sprinted into the open space ahead of him and slid the ball past keeper Manuel Neuer for an easy equalizer in the 85th minute.
Early into stoppage time, Bayern made yet another uncharacteristic error when a simple clearance by the City defense skimmed off of Jovetić's head, again freeing Agüero into acres of space between the disjointed Bayern defensive line. The Argentine striker fought off a challenge before again side-footing the ball into the net for his hat trick. While you might've assumed a City win way back in the 20th minute after the red-card and penalty decisions, the path was anything but predictable.
After this result—which came down much more to a handful of Bayern errors and the brilliance of Agüero than anything the team as a whole was able to do—Manchester City's destiny is largely in their own hands. Bayern have already won the group, but all three of the other group members sit on five points. In two weeks' time, City will travel to Rome for what will likely be the decisive match. A win would all but guarantee City's passage into the Round of 16 (assuming Bayern get at least a draw against CSKA Moscow, which you'd bet on), and even a draw could see them through in some scenarios.
In any case, if they expect to have a more comfortable time of things against Roma and during the rest of their EPL season for that matter, they're going to need to get Agüero some help. Granted, Agüero is on of the 10 or so best players in the world, a sublime finisher who can score from any position on the pitch from either foot, but he can't be the only one if City expect to achieve their aspirations of becoming true Champions League contenders.
In the Prem, Kun has scored a league-high 12 goals, which make up half the tally of the whole team. The Citizens haven't been able to rely on much more than Agüero's dogged determination to score this season, which is why they've been in such a rut. Unless Yaya Touré, Samir Nasri, David Silva when he returns from injury, and/or one of their other strikers start playing up to their usual standards, City's season will almost certainly end in disappointment in this competition and the rest. As we've seen, Agüero can give his team life more often than not, but even he can prevent a team intent on destroying itself for too long.