City will need to overturn a one-goal deficit a week on Thursday if they are to progress to the quarter-finals of the Europa League after a 1-0 defeat to Sporting Lisbon.
The Blues went close on at least five occasions, but couldn’t find the back of the net and eventually fell behind to Xandao’s improvised back-heel finish on 51 minutes, sparking feverish celebrations from the home support.
Roberto Mancini made seven changes from the team that beat Bolton 2-0 last weekend. Most notably, Aleks Kolarov was drafted in at left-back and Gael Clichy switched to right-back with both Micah Richards and Pablo Zabaleta out with injury.
Sporting may be having a rocky season in their domestic league, but they were unbeaten in nine European games going into this match, eight of which were victories, so this was always going to be a difficult encounter
...Sporting 1 City 0
Yet City began the brighter with crisp passing and fluid movement, though the loss of skipper Kompany after just eight minutes with what looked like a calf injury was a major blow – Lescott replaced him and took the skipper’s armband, too.
Just five minutes later and the Blues were scratching their heads as to why they weren’t in front when Kolo Toure’s header looked a certain goal, but was agonisingly saved by the toes of keeper Patricio.
Then Gareth Barry whipped a Robin van Persie-type left-foot shot inches past the post from 20 yards as City tried to get a lead and vital away goal that would tip the balance heavily in their favour.
However, that was as good as it got for the visitors in the first-half as Sporting steadily grew in confidence, inspired by Chilean midfielder Manuel Fernandez, who was causing numerous problems with his trickery and vision.
The second period began where the first had left off with Lisbon threatening to break the deadlock – and six minutes in, they did exactly that
...Sporting 1 City 0
Joe Hart failed to hold a 30-yard free-kick and centre-half Xandao was on hand to brilliantly back-heel the ball into the net and send the home fans wild.
It had been coming and, as we’ve seen before, the Blues look a different team when Kompany and Yaya Toure are not on the pitch.
Kolarov’s brilliant 25-yard curling effort very nearly drew the Blues level, but moments later van Wolfswinkel missed a golden chance to double Sporting’s lead when he shot weakly at Hart with the goal at his mercy.
Mario Balotelli and Samir Nasri were brought on as Mancini tried to pep a misfiring attack and Balotelli made an instant impression, outrageously flicking the ball across to David Silva who stabbed the ball inches wide.
And Balotelli came closest to finding an equaliser when he headed against the bar from a Silva corner with just three minutes remaining as City finished strongly – Sergio Aguero also had a great chance to score in injury time but saw his effort cleared by a defender after poking it past the keeper.
All in all, it wasn’t to be on the night, but trailing by just one goal, the Blues must still fancy finishing the job off at the Etihad Stadium in a week’s time.