Manchester City brought their Champions League Group A campaign to a close with a disappointing 2-1 loss at RB Leipzig – though the big talking point was a needless, late red card for Kyle Walker.
In what looked like a difficult group from the outset, City have made light work on qualification. Indeed, they secured first place ahead of PSG after matchday five. As such, they travelled to an empty Red Bull Arena – played behind closed doors due to soaring Covid rates in Germany – knowing top spot was already in the bag.
Nonetheless, Pep Guardiola was still able to name a strong side as he looked to end on a high.
In eerie and somewhat soulless conditions, it was City who started well and made the early running.
However, the first meaningful save was made by City keeper Zack Steffen, who sharply pushed away an instintive effort from Dominik Szoboszlai.
City then carved out a couple of big openings with Kevin De Bruyne’s effort flying wide and Jack Grealish drilling a cut back high over the bar.
And they were made to pay for that when the hosts took the lead after 24 minutes. The goal came from the lively Szoboszlai, who sprinted on to Konrad Laimer’s throughball, rounded Steffen and slotted into the empty net.
With the game ebbing and flowing, a lovely Leipzig move then carved City open. Once again Szoboszlai was the dangerman, heading the ball across goal for Andre Silva, whose point-blank header was instinctively parried by Steffen.
City were then close to an equaliser when Phil Foden found space down the left and his drive saw Peter Gulacsi get fingertips on it to push it onto the post.
Gulacsi then flew across his goal to push out a 25-yard free-kick from De Bruyne.
Sterling gives City new impetus
Guardiola brought Raheem Sterling on at the break and the change appeared to give City fresh energy.
Indeed, Jack Grealish found himself in decent positions down the left on a couple of occasions. However, the £100m man was unable to pick out a man or get a shot off on goal.
However, with the pace of the game suiting Leipzig, it was the Germans who made it 2-0 after 71 minutes.
With Emil Forsberg in acres of space, he squared the ball for Silva to blast a low shot past Steffen.
City continued to push forward and saw penalty claims waved away when Sterling was bundled over.
However, City did find a route back into the game when Riyad Mahrez (76) headed home a bouncing ball. The goal was crafted by an excellent inswinging cross from Oleksandr Zinchenko.
It was the Algerian’s ninth goal in his last 10 Champions League appearances – a highly-impressive return.
City pushed for an equaliser with Grealish seeing a shot deflected wide.
Needless Kyle Walker red
However, their cause wasn’t helped when Kyle Walker was shown a straight red card for needlessly kicking out at Silva.
After the fracas ensued, the referee then sent the full-back off for an early bath.
It means Walker will be absent in the first leg of their round-of-16-game next year – a fact that will infuriate Guardiola.
To make matters worse, UEFA could yet look at the incident and add an additional suspension to the punishment.
As it goes, the win ensures Leipzig finish third on seven points and drop into the Europa League.