MANCHESTER – Manchester City survived a sloppy start to secure top spot in Champions League Group F by coming from behind to beat Hoffenheim 2-1 thanks to Leroy Sane's double on Wednesday.
Andrej Kramaric's penalty put the Germans deservedly in front on 16 minutes as another much-changed City side struggled to get up to speed.
However, Pep Guardiola's men found their feet as the first half wore on and were level just before the break courtesy of a brilliant Sane free-kick.
Guardiola was frustrated by his side's wastefulness in front of goal in the second period, but Sane did at least secure victory by converting Raheem Sterling's pass on the hour mark.
“We started flat because this team is so demanding in terms of how they attack the space, their physicality, they are stronger than us,” said Guardiola.
“After that we created an incredible amount of chances, but the result is good.
“We are in the best 16, now we are going to see the draw and especially try to arrive in the right moment.”
City made life difficult for themselves in the group with a flat performance in losing at home to Lyon in their opening group game and were similarly caught cold having already secured their place in the last 16.
Kramaric had fired a warning shot inches over before Ederson produced an incredible finger-tip stop to turn another curling effort from the Croatian behind.
However, Kramaric's luck was in third time round from the penalty spot after Aymeric Laporte was punished for hauling down Benjamin Hubner.
All of City's best efforts before the break came from set-pieces as Gabriel Jesus and Nicolas Otamendi struck the woodwork.
But the hosts were finally level in spectacular fashion when Sane curled a free-kick into the top corner from 30 yards out.
Hoffenheim needed to win just to have a chance of qualifying for the Europa League knockout stage in third, but in their desperation to chase a winner left themselves hopelessly exposed to the pace of Sane and Sterling after the break.
“I don't think three points sums up our position completely. We would have gone further if we had got the points we should have done,” said Hoffenheim boss Julian Nagelsmann, who will leave to join RB Leipzig next season.
“As newcomers to this competition, we have learnt a lot, we have played well in the tournament and come back several times in games. We have done a lot for this club and hope there will be more of this in the future.”
Sane was guilty of overplaying as City incredibly spurned a three-against-one when Sterling fed the German, who tried to tee up the surprised Bernardo Silva rather than going for goal himself and Baumann saved the Portuguese's shot.
“We are young. I have that feeling. The people in front are 21, 22 years old we need to be more calm in these positions,” added Guardiola.
However, the City boss reserved special praise for 18-year-old Phil Foden on his first Champions League start of the season just days after signing a new five-and-a-half-year contract.
“He is an amazing player. His mentality, he can score goals, he is a fighter, his control in tight positions, he is a master.
“We didn't have any doubts he is ready to play in a top level with us.”
Sterling has been in the news for bravely speaking out about the alleged racist abuse he suffered in defeat at Chelsea on Saturday and news coverage he has received in the past.
However, the England international showed little sign of letting it disrupt his fine form on the pitch as he teed up Sane to round Baumann and slot home the winner.
Next up the competition favourites will face one of Atletico Madrid, Schalke, Ajax or Roma in Monday's draw.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)