The result, because it meant the better team won. Yet the best news of all was that with City getting what they deserved it negated the need for several days of inquest over the worth and process of VAR.
This was coming, have no doubt of it. Referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande wanted to have a look at the handball call against Nicolas Otamendi that led to Schalke’s equaliser in the 33rd minute, but his pitchside monitor was on the fritz.
MATCH FACTS AND STATS
Schalke (5-4-1): Fahrmann 6; Caligiuri 7, Bruma 5.5, S Sane 6.5, Nastasic 5.5, Oczipka 6; McKennie 7.5 (Skrzybski 77), Serdar 8, Bentaleb 7.5, Mendyl 7 (Burgstaller 65, 6); Uth 7
Subs not used: Nubel, Rudy, Matondo, Kutucu
Scorers: Bentaleb (37, 44)
Booked: Uth, Sane
Manager: Domenico Tedesco 6
Man City (4-3-3): Ederson 6, Walker 5, Fernandinho 5, Otamendi 4, Laporte 5, De Bruyne 5.5 (Zinchenko 87), Gundogan 5, Silva 6 (Kompany 69) 6, Sterling 7, Bernardo Silva 7, Aguero 7 (Sane 78);
Subs not used: Muric, Danilo, Mahrez, Foden
Scorers: Aguero (18), Sane (85), Sterling (90)
Booked: Otamendi, Fernandinho, Ederson
Sent off: Otamendi (68)
Manager: Pep Guardiola 5
Referee: Carlos Del Cerro 5
There is a dirty great four-sided video screen that hangs from the centre of the Arena AufSchalke and he could definitely have seen that – but to reshow it would mean letting the paying customers in on the secret, too, and there is no way UEFA would allow that.
So Del Cerro Grande’s decision was handed down to him remotely. Was it a penalty? Maybe. Maybe not. Like much of what VAR is required to rule upon, it was a judgement call, pure and simple. Seen them given. Seen them not. Want to talk about some great football first?
Want to talk about Leroy Sane? There were 78 minutes gone when he was finally introduced, 85 when he gave Manchester City the parity they deserved. Why he had to wait that long, heaven knows. City had been trailing 2-1 since shortly before half-time, and went down to ten men in the 68th minute after Nicolas Otamendi was sent off for his second bookable offence, a foul on Guido Burgstaller and a stupidly extreme reaction to the decision, which probably sealed it.
And so to the controversy that brought Schalke back into the game. Perhaps it was a penalty, but it was certainly a mess. Caligiuri’s shot looked goalbound until it struck Otamendi. Immediately, Schalke players surrounded Del Cerro Grande, screaming for a penalty. This seemed to do the trick as he called for a VAR ruling. Well, at least we presume he did.
UEFA said fans would be kept fully informed of developments without being shown an actual replay of the incident. That didn’t happen. We know VAR was in effect because the players mooned around or followed the official like a gang of unsubtle pickpockets, while he walked around with his finger in one ear, as if he was appearing on a particularly hammy episode of Star Trek.
Then, with nobody any the wiser, he called both captains together – and Fahrmann does the job for Schalke, meaning he was summoned from 70 yards away – to order them to tell their players to stop crowding him. Why would they, when exactly that strategy had proved so successful in getting VAR involved in the first place?
Finally, he was given his decision. Penalty to Schalke, booking for Otamendi. He looked to be trying to get his arm out of the way but failed. Finally, when Nabil Bentaleb – late of Tottenham – was standing over the ball UEFA felt confident enough to inform their patrons a penalty had been awarded via VAR. Thanks for that. Bentaleb went right, City goalkeeper Ederson left. Somehow, Schalke were level. The whole process had taken more than four minutes.
Seven minutes later – or 11 in old money, take your pick – Schalke were ahead. Another rare as hen’s teeth expedition into the City penalty area produced unnecessary action from Fernandinho, who defended a free-kick by grappling with Salif Sane. This time Del Cerro Grande spotted the offence without assistance. Bentaleb scored again. This time he went left, as did Ederson, but the connection was too good – high and well-placed. City must have wondered what had hit them. European football circa 2019, it would seem.