Manchester City produced goals when they really needed them to win 3-2 in Germany – and with 10 men to boot – but they also showed familiar vulnerabilities against resilient Shalke.
The manner of Manchester City’s late, dramatic and ultimately classy comeback against Schalke will have supporters dreaming of Champions League glory, even if we are several months and several rounds from the final in Madrid.
Questions about City’s character will be put to bed for a while now that they have come up with two late goals to snatch a 3-2 away win, especially given they had 10 men on the pitch when Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling pounced.
Pep Guardiola’s men have been found wanting when things have gone against them in the Premier League this season, but here they clawed their way to victory, and after very understandable gripes about the use of VAR.
It took the video assistant over two minutes to give a handball against Nicolas Otamendi that was neither clear nor obvious. The fact the on-field referee was unable to check the footage himself due to a fault with the pitchside monitor only added to any sense of injustice.
So will the fact that Otamendi was booked for the handball, and later sent off.
At that stage it looked like a disaster night for City, even if, at 2-1, they would have been favourites to progress anyway, owing to their quality, home advantage and the away goal Sergio Aguero provided in the first half.
Instead they secured a result which will no doubt be used to suggest City can take the next step in European competition; if not win the whole thing, then at least reach the semi-finals.
Sane’s free kick, against his former club, was a moment of true inspiration.
Sterling, so often guilty of missing one-on-ones, sized up Ralf Fahrmann and nervelessly clipped the ball past him, before taking off towards the away end for full-speed celebrations. Just like he did at Bournemouth last season, having scored a goal that turned out to be the spark that lit City’s 100-point season.
Those City fans have been treated to a memorable night, but it would be foolish to forget the factors that contributed to that sense of impending disaster not long before Sane unleashed that rocket.
There is plenty to suggest City have problems in Europe.
Guardiola, despite his public protestations, wants to win the Champions League this season, but there are many signs that they are, despite the good of Wednesday night, far from the required level.
Unless that level is lowered due to the problems of traditional giants like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, City will have to improve a lot if they want to go much further than the quarter-finals.
There were signs in the group stage that City struggled more in European competition than at home, after all.
Lyon barely gave them a sniff over two games, with City losing at home and doing well to snatch a draw in France.
And even Hoffenheim gave Guardiola’s men a shock in Germany, before a rousing comeback put City back on track.
While the nature of the two penalties they conceded at the Veltins Arena has to be taken into account, it is concerning that City still seem to concede too easily in Champions League matches.
This game suggests they have not improved on that front since the group stages ended in December.
They also looked pedestrian for much of this game, and it was only Sane’s incredible goal that changed that. Still, that also speaks to the quality City can call upon, especially as the German started on the bench.
And yes, the fact that they came back to win in thrilling fashion, and with 10 men, is of course a positive. And quite possibly a sign that they have not just the quality but the resilience to win this competition, especially at a time when the likes of Madrid, Barca and Bayern are not standing out as obvious winners.
This competition is open and there is no reason that City, with this squad and this manager, should not be in the conversation.
But there is also cause for caution. They have been troubled by Lyon, Schalke and to a lesser extent Hoffenheim.
Even if Europe’s biggest sides aren’t at their best, they will surely pose more of a threat than those teams later in the competition.