Joško Gvardiol stifled the threat of Manchester City star Erling Haaland before scoring himself to earn Leipzig a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their round-of-16 matchup in the Champions League on Wednesday. (More Football News)
The Croatia center back, nicknamed “Little Pep” because of the similarities of his last name with that of City manager Pep Guardiola, headed home the equalizer in the 70th minute after Leipzig finally got to grips with the English champions.
City dominated the first half without Haaland, its top scorer, getting a sight on goal and Riyad Mahrez netted the 27th-minute opener after Ilkay Gundogan flicked through a pass from Jack Grealish.
As Haaland grew frustrated in the second half, City lost control of the game and Leipzig posed more of a threat, creating the better of the chances.
“What do you expect, that we are playing a friendly game here?” Guardiola said, when asked why his team was unable to retain its domination into the second half. “How many games have you seen from Leipzig? You expect us to come here and win 0-5? That is not a reality.”
It leaves the match in the balance heading into the second leg in Manchester on March 14 as City continues its bid for a first Champions League title.
Guardiola conducted a mini-debrief with his players on the field after the final whistle, telling them to stay positive after seeing them throw away their advantage after a first-half performance that could have led to more than just Mahrez’s 20th Champions League goal.
Haaland had only seven touches before halftime — none of them coming in Leipzig’s penalty area — and he had only one opportunity in the whole match, when he got free down the right midway through the second half and snatched at a shot that dribbled wide.
Leipzig’s extra intensity and aggression paid off as the German team, a Champions League semifinalist in 2020, finally showed why it had lost just one of its 20 previous matches in all competitions.
“We started to play, to fight,” Leipzig coach Marco Rose said. “Really different to the first half. We were too passive in every situation. We had no power. In the second half, we were the same level (as City). Better late than never.”
Benjamin Henrichs, who came on as a halftime substitute, side-footed wide when he was one on one with goalkeeper Ederson, who got down well to deny Andre Silva.
However, Ederson was left stranded when Marcel Halstenberg swung over a left-wing cross and 21-year-old Gvardiol — one of the best defenders at last year’s World Cup and among Europe’s most sought-after young players — got above Ruben Dias to nod the ball into an unguarded net.
There was a bizarre incident in the final seconds when Mahrez curled a cross into the area and a header from City midfielder Rodri appeared to be punched away by Henrichs as he defended his body with both arms. City’s players appealed for a penalty but the referee was unmoved.
When Leipzig last visited City’s Etihad Stadium, it was routed 6-3 in a wild group-stage game in the Champions League last season. Christopher Nkunku scored a hat trick for Leipzig on that night and the France striker came on as a substitute in the second half, stepping up his sharpness after a left knee injury sustained in training in November just before flying out to the World Cup.
Nkunku might be fit to start the second leg when City should have Kevin De Bruyne available again. The playmaker was absent on Wednesday because of an illness.