Erling Haaland misfires, Julian Alvarez inspires: Who will stop Man City in the Champions League?
Erling Haaland misfires, Julian Alvarez inspires: Who will stop Man City in the Champions League?
Haaland misfires, Alvarez inspires: Who will stop Man City in the Champions League?

ETIHAD STADIUM, MANCHESTER — The name Glazer and footballing catastrophes have gone hand in hand in Manchester for years.

But the Glazer family’s rank mismanagement of Manchester United tends to take place in the shadows away from the green and yellow protest scarves.

By contrast, their namesake and Red Star Belgrade goalkeeper Omri Glazer made a show of himself under the bright lights of the Etihad Stadium in a 3-1 Champions League defeat on Tuesday night.

In truth, it’s a little harsh to single Glazer out. The Israeli international’s sterling work before halftime, repelling Rodri’s piledriver and thwarting Phil Foden from point-blank range as Manchester City racked up 22 shots on goal, played a significant part in Red Star claiming a shock 1-0 lead over the European champions.

Livewire forward Osman Bukari only needed one shot as he caught Ruben Dias napping to give the Serbian giants their ill-deserved advantage. It was their only shot of the half and Pep Guardiola’s treble winners were handed a rare lesson in efficiency.

MORE: Who will win Champions League 2023/24 title? Predictions, betting tips, odds for UEFA tournament

Julian Alvarez was a menace to Red Star before the break, always popping up in space he had no right to have on the edge of the area. When the Argentina star burst into the opposition box early in the second half, he appeared to have run out of room altogether as Haaland overhit the pass.

However, the man nicknamed La Arana (the spider) showed the sort of dexterity you’d only normally associate with an eight-legged creature as he touched the ball around Glazer and rolled his studs over it to finish in one rapid-fire movement.

The Red Star goalkeeper remained busy. He made a hash of an Alvarez shot from range in the 57th minute but instantly atoned with a fabulous stop to deny Haaland on the follow-up.

Glazer’s luck ran out a few moments later after Marko Stamenic brought down City full debutant Matheus Nunes on the left-hand corner of the penalty area. Alvarez’s free-kick dipped and curled sharply, but not to the extent that Glazer should have punched fresh air and heard the dreaded nestle in his top corner.

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Álvarez ➡️ Haaland ➡️ Álvarez ➡️ ⚽️

That assist though. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/pj737eAlP2

— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 19, 2023

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Incredible footwork from Julián Álvarez to level it up for Man City! 🔥🔥#UCL pic.twitter.com/EO6BOjc1qp

— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) September 19, 2023

Red Star midfielder Mirko Ivanic gave Glazer a conciliatory hug, an expression of sympathy that said it could have been any of the visiting players to crack under the pressure City were exerting. Who’d be a goalkeeper?

There was no time to sulk for the 27-year-old, who again denied Haaland on a rare night of personal failure for the Ballon d’Or nominee and he also saved sharply from City substitute Jeremy Doku before their Champions League final hero Rodri did his thing of expertly picking out the corner with a precise side-footed finish.

This is a team at the pinnacle of the sport evolving before our eyes. The addition of confident ball-carriers like Nunes, Doku and Mateo Kovacic, along with City racking up 66 goal attempts in their past two games makes this feel like the end of Guardiola's "one thousand million passes" era.

“I think that's Pep being Pep," said Kyle Walker, who has already taken on a variety of responsibilities from right-back this season. "Teams work us out, teams find the strategy of how they feel that they're going to play or defend against us.

“When we can build up in different ways, I think that puts another tool in our toolbox where we can change it mid-game and it seems to be working for us. At the start of the game against West Ham we played with me wide and then all of a sudden [Guardiola] pulled us inside and said me and [left-back] Josko [Gvardiol] go in the middle.

“I feel that there’s a lot of players who can play in the middle and out wide. Last year there was probably only John [Stones] that could really do it... coming in to make that overload in the midfield. Now he's letting all of us do it.

"He's got the key ingredient. He knows when's right to let certain players go, bring players in, freshen things up here, give people challenges there."

It says a lot of the jeopardy or lack thereof that exists for most of the elite sides at this stage of the Champions League that by far the most involved player for a club who were themselves European champions in 1991 was their goalkeeper. Adding a couple more group games from next season is hardly going to enhance the spectacle of an increasingly polarised sport.

As early as the first half, some of the press box conversation had turned towards who might stop City in their quest to go back-to-back. If anyone, it’ll be one of the usual suspects. 

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Rodri picks up right where he left off.

Last season's #UCL final goalscorer has his first of the season. 🫡 pic.twitter.com/Sl66O3N9dE

— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 19, 2023

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The technique on this Rodri goal 🤤

Pinpoint from Man City's #UCL hero 🙌 pic.twitter.com/tOsuJIHl7M

— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) September 19, 2023

Bayern Munich were City’s toughest opponents during last season’s knockout stages. Their lack of a striker badly undermined them during a 3-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium. They’ve added Harry Kane, who will be an immediate problem for City's near neighbours in Munich on Wednesday.

Real Madrid were swatted aside in the semifinal second leg, arguably the most complete and ruthless performance of the Guardiola era. They’ve added Jude Bellingham but lost Karim Benzema.

MORE: Who escapes the Champions League 'Group of Death'? Predicting PSG, Newcastle, Milan, or Dortmund to progress

You wonder how Xavi’s vibrant but untested Barcelona side might stand up to such an examination. Tuesday’s 5-0 win over Royal Antwerp suggests it might be fun finding out. 

City overcame going a goal down and being without Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish, Stones and Kovacic to secure a win that never really felt in doubt against Red Star. Haaland misfired and another of the world’s best young strikers, Alvarez, irresistibly took centre stage.

An awful lot can happen between now and next May’s final at Wembley. But it feels certain that a formidable City team yet to hit top gear will take some beating now the Champions League monkey is off their back.

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