Celtic and Manchester City trade blows in a Champions League classic at Parkhead

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It was an embrace born of mutual respect. When the final whistle blew on an engrossing, remarkable game of football, Pep Guardiola and Brendan Rodgers came together like a pair of sweating, heavyweight sluggers.

For 90 minutes, Celtic and Manchester City exchanged haymakers with brutal intent. They gave their all. When it was over, Scotland’s champions pulled themselves off the ropes, bruised, bloodied and standing tall.

The financial chasm between these clubs is unbridgeable. Yet this was a night when Rodgers and his team asked more questions of Pep’s City in the first 25 minutes than the English Premier League have managed in six games.

Not bad for the leaders of a pub league.

Moussa Dembele (right) spreads his arms wide in celebration after putting Celtic 1-0 up inside three minutes in Glasgow

Moussa Dembele (right) spreads his arms wide in celebration after putting Celtic 1-0 up inside three minutes in Glasgow

Manchester City were quickly level when Fernandinho (right) got on the end of Aleksandar Kolarov's scuffed shot to equalise

Manchester City were quickly level when Fernandinho (right) got on the end of Aleksandar Kolarov’s scuffed shot to equalise

Once again Celtic re-took the lead when Kieran Tierney (right) saw his shot diverted past Claudio Bravo by Raheem Sterling

Once again Celtic re-took the lead when Kieran Tierney (right) saw his shot diverted past Claudio Bravo by Raheem Sterling

Sterling (right) quickly went down the other end, turning Tierney inside out to slot past Craig Gordon and make the score 2-2

Sterling (right) quickly went down the other end, turning Tierney inside out to slot past Craig Gordon and make the score 2-2

Dembele scored his second of the game just after half-time - an acrobatic overhead kick - to put Celtic 3-2 ahead

Dembele scored his second of the game just after half-time – an acrobatic overhead kick – to put Celtic 3-2 ahead

The scores were level for a third time when Nolito (left) fired in after Sergio Aguero's initial effort was saved by Gordon

The scores were level for a third time when Nolito (left) fired in after Sergio Aguero’s initial effort was saved by Gordon

MATCH FACTS

CELTIC (4-2-3-1): Gordon 7; Lustig 6.5, Toure 6.5, Sviatchenko 7.5, Tierney 7; Brown 6.5, Bitton 6 (Griffiths 84); Forrest 6.5 (Roberts 80), Rogic 7 (Armstrong 57), Sinclair 7.5; Dembele 8 

Subs not used: De Vries, Simunovic, Gamboa, McGregor

Scorers: Dembele 3, Sterling (OG) 20

MAN CITY (4-1-4-1): Bravo 5.5; Zabaleta 6, Otamendi 5.5, Kolarov 5.5, Clichy 6 (Stones 73, 6); Fernandinho 6; Nolito 6.5 (Fernando 76, 6), Gundogan 6, Silva 7, Sterling 7; Aguero 6 

Subs not used: Caballero, Sagna, Navas, Sane, Iheanacho

Scorers: Fernandinho 12, Sterling 28, Nolito 55

Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy) 7

Star man: Moussa Dembele

 

Attempting, and failing, to match the record 11-victory start to a season racked up by Tottenham’s double winners in 1960, Guardiola’s team spent the opening stages in a punch-drunk state.

In a high-tempo, whirlwind start, Celtic scored their quickest-ever goal in the Champions League group stage.

For Guardiola’s City, this was new territory. They had never been behind this season. They had never lost two goals. Yet this was a night when the £400million men had to battle back no fewer than three times.

It was a pulsating, thrilling, no-holds-barred game of football played out in an unrivalled atmosphere. It was all anyone could do to draw breath.

Describing the Celtic support as a 12th man, proud manager Rodgers said: ‘It’s a noise I’ve never heard before since coming up here.

‘I think of all the games that we’ve had here. I’ve played around the world with teams with great atmospheres. But there is sheer passion. It’s when you come here that you actually realise why players throughout the world that play for different teams talk about the atmosphere here.

‘You can see the level of support for the team when we play to that level. It’s very difficult for a team even of Manchester City’s quality.

‘You can actually say that a Celtic supporter really is like a 12th man.

‘Tonight the atmosphere was electric. It was an incredible evening for us and they helped us produce the performance that we did.’

Celtic took their strength from the energy surging down from the Parkhead stands. They channelled it.

They snapped at City’s heels. They got in their faces. They pressed and harried and scored three fine goals. This was no rope-a-dope, backs-to-the-wall night of toil.

They tired in the closing stages, while City pressed hard for a winner. Yet Scotland’s champions slugged it out, landing decisive punches. They deserved their draw. After Barcelona, third place in the group now feels attainable.

The atmosphere is always terrific inside Celtic Park on a European night; on Wednesday, the rain pelted down before kick-off

The atmosphere is always terrific inside Celtic Park on a European night; on Wednesday, the rain pelted down before kick-off

Dembele, perhaps offside when the ball fell to him, uses his chest to divert the ball past City keeper Bravo from close range

Dembele, perhaps offside when the ball fell to him, uses his chest to divert the ball past City keeper Bravo from close range

Silva (left), Bravo and Nicolas Otamendi (right) appeal for the linesman's flag to be raised, but the opening goal stood

Silva (left), Bravo and Nicolas Otamendi (right) appeal for the linesman’s flag to be raised, but the opening goal stood

As former Fulham striker Dembele slides in front of the corner flag after his goal, the sell-out crowd at Celtic Park go wild 

As former Fulham striker Dembele slides in front of the corner flag after his goal, the sell-out crowd at Celtic Park go wild 

Dembele looks to the rainy skies after scoring his third Champions League goal; he also netted against Astana and Hapoel

Dembele looks to the rainy skies after scoring his third Champions League goal; he also netted against Astana and Hapoel

Barcelona top Group C with two wins from two, while City's win and a draw leaves them second with four points

Barcelona top Group C with two wins from two, while City’s win and a draw leaves them second with four points

Their opening goal came in the third minute.

Scott Sinclair, one of three former Manchester City players in the home eleven, picked out James Forrest with a long, diagonal free-kick.

The winger’s first-time ball across the face of a crowded box was nodded towards goal by Erik Sviatchenko. But the final ricochet off the chest of Moussa Dembele turned it past keeper Claudio Bravo.

Against all expectations, Celtic were ahead. Guardiola’s team looked stunned.

Kolo Toure almost made it two just minutes later, turning with his back to goal to direct a Sinclair free-kick towards Bravo. The Chilean pushed the ball wide. A nation now rubbed its eyes. No one saw this coming.

A squad assembled at a cost of £420m, City were nobody’s idea of cannon fodder.

Weakened, unquestionably, by the loss of Kevin De Bruyne and — more than anyone — captain Vincent Kompany, the fragility of the EPL leaders in defence was offset by their clinical precision in midfield and attack.

They capitalised on the slightest mistake from Celtic in midfield time and again. Afterwards, Guardiola purred in the knowledge that his team can mix it and fight when they have to.

There was certainly nothing pretty or silky about their first goal in 11 minutes.

It owed much to a slice of good fortune, when Aleksandar Kolarov mis-hit a shot from the edge of the box. It might have gone anywhere.

The misfortune for the home team was that it fell to Fernandinho instead. One touch to steady himself and another to level the scores.

Celtic were only 1-0 up for eight minutes as Fernandinho (right) used his left foot to slot past Bhoys goalkeeper Gordon

Celtic were only 1-0 up for eight minutes as Fernandinho (right) used his left foot to slot past Bhoys goalkeeper Gordon

Fernandinho was delighted to net his second goal of the season after the ball fell to his somewhat fortuitously in the area

Fernandinho was delighted to net his second goal of the season after the ball fell to his somewhat fortuitously in the area

Celtic's No 63 Tierney puts the ball across the face of goal but Sterling accidentally diverts it in at Bravo's near post

Celtic’s No 63 Tierney puts the ball across the face of goal but Sterling accidentally diverts it in at Bravo’s near post

Tierney celebrates wildly after Sterling accidentally poked the ball past Bravo to give Celtic the lead for a second time

Tierney celebrates wildly after Sterling accidentally poked the ball past Bravo to give Celtic the lead for a second time

Pep Guardiola's side have been excellent all season and he won't have been happy to see his players concede three times

Pep Guardiola’s side have been excellent all season and he won’t have been happy to see his players concede three times

To their credit, the Scottish Premiership leaders refused to wallow in self-pity.

Tom Rogic — who had a fine game before being replaced by Stuart Armstrong — curled a free-kick inches wide of Bravo’s post.

However, the Australian’s most telling contribution had yet to come, in the 20th minute, when Celtic scored a sweeping second.

It began with neat footwork on the halfway line from Nir Bitton. The Israeli, a former Manchester City trialist, played a pass which allowed Rogic to use his upper body strength.

Celtic’s playmaker resisted the urge to put the ball through to Sinclair and delayed his pass for an overlapping Kieran Tierney on the left flank.

There was good fortune in what happened next. The young left-back’s low shot took a wicked break off the toe of Raheem Sterling and spun past Bravo.

Whatever UEFA’s killjoys say, it was Tierney’s goal. A strike which confirmed the teenager has what it takes to compete at this level.

Guardiola’s multi-talented team have steamrollered English opposition and thumped Borussia Monchengladbach 4-0 in their opening group game. Here they were being asked to draw on different qualities.

They levelled in 28 minutes. It was a crying shame for Dembele, who justified his hype with another fine display here.

Nevertheless, the Frenchman’s short pass to Scott Brown left the captain little chance of repelling David Silva, whose superb ball for Sterling presented the England international with the opportunity to tuck a composed, patient finish past Craig Gordon for 2-2.

Celtic's fans were loud in their safe standing area in the corner; they held a banner which read: 'It's such a joy for us to see'

Celtic’s fans were loud in their safe standing area in the corner; they held a banner which read: ‘It’s such a joy for us to see’

Gordon (right) dives desperately at the feet of Sterling but he is perilous to stop the England winger's goalbound effort

Gordon (right) dives desperately at the feet of Sterling but he is perilous to stop the England winger’s goalbound effort

Sterling quickly made up for his own goal when he showed skill and power to turn Celtic's defence inside out and score

Sterling quickly made up for his own goal when he showed skill and power to turn Celtic’s defence inside out and score

Sterling (second left) has already scored four goals this season but his effort on Wednesday was his first in Europe this term

Sterling (second left) has already scored four goals this season but his effort on Wednesday was his first in Europe this term

The half-time whistle was timely for Celtic. The respite provided the opportunity to regroup. To come again.

Remarkably, they went ahead for a third time within minutes of the restart.

Dembele — a bargain signing from Fulham — claimed his 12th goal in 16 games. Again, Guardiola’s team were ropey in defence.

A Forrest cross from the left flank was poorly dealt with by Kolarov. When it fell to Dembele, he had work to do.

With his back to goal, however, the striker hooked it beyond Bravo into the corner of the net to make it 3-2.

Celtic Park’s foundations could have crumbled in that instant and no one would have noticed. 

Scott Brown had some choice words for his Celtic team-mates after watching them squander their lead for the second time

Scott Brown had some choice words for his Celtic team-mates after watching them squander their lead for the second time

Dembele (right) looked in fantastic form throughout; he grabbed his second goal with an acrobatic overhead kick on 47

Dembele (right) looked in fantastic form throughout; he grabbed his second goal with an acrobatic overhead kick on 47

Celtic fans will have been in disbelief after watching Dembele net their side's third goal against heavyweights Man City

Celtic fans will have been in disbelief after watching Dembele net their side’s third goal against heavyweights Man City

We should have known better, of course.

This was an extraordinary game of football. One where City refused to accept their fate.

Their equaliser was delightful and it was deserved.

A dinked Fernandinho pass through for Sergio Aguero was sublime. You fancied the Argentine talisman to bury it there and then. Not for the first time, however, keeper Gordon justified his return in place of Dorus de Vries by parrying the ball out. His misfortune was the lurking presence of the excellent Nolito. City were level. Yet again.

The vim and vigour of Rodgers’ team was fading, but Gordon sustained them in added time with an instinctive stop from what seemed a certain Ilkay Gundogan goal.

Celtic held on for their point. God knows they earned it.

Again Celtic couldn't hold their lead as Aguero's shot was parried into the path of Nolito for the Spaniard to finish with ease

Again Celtic couldn’t hold their lead as Aguero’s shot was parried into the path of Nolito for the Spaniard to finish with ease

Nolito had the easiest of finishes after Celtic goalkeeper Gordon parried Aguero's original shot into the middle of the box

Nolito had the easiest of finishes after Celtic goalkeeper Gordon parried Aguero’s original shot into the middle of the box

Manchester City's players huddle in celebration after levelling against Celtic for the third time in an hour on Wednesday

Manchester City’s players huddle in celebration after levelling against Celtic for the third time in an hour on Wednesday

It will have been an exhausting match for Guardiola and Brendan Rodgers as they watched their players battle it out

It will have been an exhausting match for Guardiola and Brendan Rodgers as they watched their players battle it out

Rod Stewart was in the crowd in Glasgow; he is a huge Celtic fan and even mentioned them in the lyrics of one of his songs

Rod Stewart was in the crowd in Glasgow; he is a huge Celtic fan and even mentioned them in the lyrics of one of his songs

Rocker Noel Gallagher looked to have enjoyed himself in the director's box as he watched the Champions League tie

Rocker Noel Gallagher looked to have enjoyed himself in the director’s box as he watched the Champions League tie

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