It is probably a measure of Manchester City’s increased expectations that this is the kind of result that now provokes feelings of disappointment for the new regime. It is the first time Pep Guardiola’s team have failed to win under his control. They have missed the chance to equal an English record, set by Tottenham Hotspur in 1960, with 11 successive wins at the start of the season, and they should know enough about Guardiola by now to realise it will not satisfy him merely to have contributed to a night of exhilarating drama.
City certainly showed powers of endurance given they were behind three times and, on each occasion, conjured up an equaliser within nine minutes. On that front, City demonstrated the kind of durability that will be useful in the months ahead. Yet there was also no doubt Celtic could be far more encouraged as the first team this season to cause City prolonged anxiety.
Moussa Dembélé created all sorts of problems for the side with an immaculate record in England’s top division. The former Fulham player scored twice, either side of an own-goal from the otherwise outstanding Raheem Sterling. Fernandinho, Sterling and Nolito provided the equalising goals and, though it was difficult for City, there was always the possibility their extra sheen of class might eventually come through.
Brendan Rodgers clearly has work to do defensively, with 10 goals conceded in Celtic’s first two Champions League matches, but they survived a late flurry of pressure and can be greatly encouraged to have halted City’s long sequence of wins. It was a remarkable ovation at the final whistle and a din that made your bones vibrate. “A noise I’ve never heard before,” he said.
The disappointment for Rodgers was that his team could not exert more control on the occasions they were ahead. Overall, though, this was the kind of retro performance the club craved. Celtic were quick to the ball, strong in the tackle and maybe sensed, certainly at the start, that their opponents might not fully comprehend what it was like to play beneath the floodlights in Glasgow, with the volume turned high.
City looked disorientated at the back and the team in tangerine and purple – an away kit that should be packed away and never seen again – cannot expect to achieve their ambitions defending this generously. If they try it in their next two assignments, both against Barcelona, their position in Group C could be substantially weakened.
Guardiola must have been startled by their vulnerability at times and it was not just Dembélé’s goal, stemming from a miskick by Aleksander Kolarov, when hard evidence was supplied that a player whose reputation was built at left-back can be susceptible in the centre of defence.
Celtic were determined not to let their opponents have time to settle. Every time the ball was at Claudio Bravo’s feet, at least two players advanced. Rodgers called it educated pressure. It was a lung‑splitting effort and, after such a handsome run of victories, perhaps there was also a touch of complacency about the way City started.
It certainly seemed that way during those fraught moments when the intensity of Celtic’s play appeared to catch them by surprise. Celtic were ahead after barely 90 seconds from a neatly worked free-kick, culminating in Erik Sviatchenko’s header flicking off Dembélé, possibly offside, inside the six-yard box. It was the first time City had been behind this season.
Fernandinho’s equaliser came at a good time for City, intercepting Kolarov’s wayward shot with a skilful piece of control before turning a left-foot shot past Craig Gordon, the Celtic goalkeeper. Yet there was never a prolonged period of the first half when City were obviously superior and after 20 minutes of near‑unremitting drama Celtic went ahead for a second time when Sterling tried to intercept Kieran Tierney’s cross, diving in only to divert the ball into his own net.
Sterling made amends eight minutes later with a stylish goal, running through the middle to control David Silva’s pass and showing the composure to feint a left-foot shot before cutting back on to his right foot. There was a time when Sterling might have rushed his shot but the change of direction deceived Tierney and gave him a better angle to turn the ball past Gordon.
The goal originated from Silva dispossessing Scott Brown in midfield and with both teams making life difficult for themselves it made for a thrilling spectacle.
Celtic took the lead for a third time in their first attack of the second half. Kolarov made a hash of trying to clear a left-wing cross and it was a wonderful piece of improvisational skill from Dembélé, flicking the ball off his knee, then hooking in an acrobatic volley. Dembélé, in the words of Rodgers, “bullied their back four”.
Again, Celtic’s jubilation was short-lived. Nine minutes later, Sterling and Silva exchanged passes just outside the penalty area. Silva nudged the ball into Sergio Agüero’s path and when Gordon saved the striker’s diagonal shot the rebound came back to Nolito to slot in the sixth goal of the evening.
How cruel it would have been on Celtic if they had succumbed during that late spell of pressure. Ilkay Gündogan had City’s best opportunity but Gordon saved his team and an epic contest reached its noisy climax.