GELSENKIRCHEN,. Raheem Sterling sealed a dramatic 3-2 Champions League win for 10-man Manchester City at Schalke yesterday as the English champions scored twice in the last five minutes.
Sterling tucked away the winner at the Veltins Arena in the 90th minute just after substitute Leroy Sane fired home a stunning free-kick for the Premier League leaders against his former club in the last 16, first leg.
“I waited for my chance and wanted to shoot from there as I had previously scored from that position and it restored our confidence,” a delighted Sane told broadcaster DAZN after his equaliser.
Schalke led 2-1 at halftime as the video assistant referee (VAR) twice intervened to award penalties, both converted by Nabil Bentaleb, cancelling out Sergio Aguero’s opener in Gelsenkirchen.
City were in real trouble with 22 minutes left when Nicolas Otamendi, who gave away the controversial first penalty, was sent off for a second yellow card before Sane’s moment of brilliance and Sterling’s winner.
“We will not go far in this competition unless we improve,” said City manager Pep Guardiola.
“At the end the quality of Sane and Sterling made the difference.”
However, City still have some work to do in the return leg on March 12 with Fernandinho, who was booked when conceding the second spot-kick, and Otamendi both suspended.
Schalke are just above the Bundesliga’s relegation places and winless in their last four league games, yet they gave Premier League leaders City an almighty scare.
The hosts initially struggled to get out of their half as Man City dominated the opening 30 minutes, until the game swung dramatically Schalke’s way with the two penalty decisions.
Schalke shot themselves in the foot for City’s opening goal on 18 minutes when a lazy pass from goalkeeper Ralf Faehrmann to Salif Sane was snapped up by David Silva.
The Spaniard drew Faehrmann and selflessly served up a simple tap-in for Aguero to claim his 10th goal in his last seven City appearances.
Schalke sparked into life
However, falling behind sparked life into Schalke.
Striker Mark Uth fired wide, then ex-Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Bentaleb got the better of Ilkay Gundogan in midfield.
Likewise, a cheer went up when US international Weston McKennie nicked the ball off Kevin De Bruyne.
Schalke drew level after Daniel Caligiuri fired in a speculative shot which clipped Otamendi’s arm.
There was a delay of nearly three minutes for a VAR review, which Sky reported was caused by a technical problem as referee Carlos del Cerro Grande could not view the replay.
Despite City’s furious protests, the spot-kick was duly awarded, which Bentaleb tucked away to the delight of the home crowd on 38 minutes and they would be celebrating again soon after.
The Germans took the lead when Fernandinho pushed Senegal defender Salif Sane when a free-kick flew into the box, and VAR again intervened and another penalty went Schalke’s way.
Bentaleb stepped up to smash the spot-kick past Ederson and put Schalke ahead.
The second half was a much more even affair with Schalke no longer intimidated to be playing star-studded City.
In turn, the visitors’ problems were compounded on 68 minutes when Otamendi clattered Schalke’s replacement forward Guido Burgstaller and was dismissed.
Guardiola reacted by swapping midfielder David Silva for veteran centre-back Vincent Kompany to settle the defence.
In a bid to turn the match with 13 minutes left, Leroy Sane came on for Aguero and the Germany international produced the goods against the club he left in 2016.
Then Sterling latched onto goalkeeper Ederson’s long clearance as the home defence hesitated and slotted in.
Uefa Champions League last 16, first leg results yesterday:
Atletico Madrid (ESP) 2 (Gimenez 78, Godin 83) Juventus (ITA) 0
Schalke 04 (GER) 2 (Bentaleb 38-pen, 45-pen) Manchester City (ENG) 3 (Aguero 19, Sane 85, Sterling 90)
Liverpool (ENG) 0 Bayern Munich (GER) 0
Lyon (FRA) 0 Barcelona (ESP) 0
Played Tuesday, February 12
Manchester United (ENG) 0 Paris Saint-Germain (FRA) 2 (Kimpembe 53, Mbappe 60)
Roma (ITA) 2 (Zaniolo 70, 76) Porto (POR) 1 (Adrian Lopez 79)
Played Wednesday, February 13
Tottenham Hotspur (ENG) 3 (Son 47, Vertonghen 83, Llorente 86) Borussia Dortmund (GER) 0
Ajax (NED) 1 (Ziyech 75) Real Madrid (ESP) 2 (Benzema 60, Asensio 87)
Second legs to be played March 5, 6, 12 and 13. — AFP