Manchester City produced a stunningly controlled performance and a famous result in Bavaria but there was an element of mathematical farce at the end of their 3-2 defeat of Bayern Munich as it emerged they had misunderstood the rules of the competition, believing they needed to score two more goals to top Group D, when in fact a 4-2 victory would have been enough.
City had lost 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium in October. They were leading 3-2 in Germany with 20 minutes left when Manuel Pellegrini took off David Silva, an incisive influence on the night, in the belief that his team still required two goals rather than one to win the head-to-head with Bayern and top the group, thereby earning what is generally a more favourable draw in the knockout stage.
"It was difficult to score two goals and I think that Silva had to play not more than 70 minutes," Pellegrini told Sky Sports, defending the decision not to bring on his leading scorer, Sergio Agüero, with 20 minutes to go. "I was tempted if we scored the fourth goal – of course that's why I sent Agüero to warm up.
"But also I think it was a risk to continue with Silva; he can't play for more than 70 minutes. I repeat for our team it's very important to be the first in the group but it's not the most important thing."
In the event Álvaro Negredo replaced Silva and almost went on to score the decisive goal, Manuel Neuer producing a fine save at his feet. James Milner, who got the winner and set up City's other two, confirmed that they were unaware of the regulations. "We knew roughly," he said. "We didn't know if 4-2 would be enough or if we would need 5-2. We thought it needed to be 5-2, to be honest."
In his post-match press conference Pellegrini avoided the question of whether he had understood the aggregate score correctly and focused on the fact Silva needed to be replaced, not least with Saturday's Premier League visit of Arsenal in mind.
"Well it was very important to score another goal. Negredo had the chance. That could have happened but it was also important to make the change. It was a risk with David Silva in for his first match for five weeks. He played 70 minutes and that was enough for him. It was very important to be at the top of the group but we also have a very important game on Saturday."
Pellegrini was understandably more concerned with the quality of his team's performance in producing a famous European result, Bayern's first defeat at home since March (in a dead rubber against Arsenal) and only their second home defeat since October 2012. "It was very important for us," he said. "We needed the revenge for the game in Manchester where we played really bad and that was not the difference between Manchester City and Bayern." There was also special praise for Milner – "a very important player with a lot of character".
At the end of a dramatic night it seemed a shame a misunderstanding of the rules should overshadow a fine result, however briefly. Topping the group is no small matter in a draw where, with the English clubs removed, City's opponents in the next round will come from a small pool well-weighted with European heavyweights. Pellegrini will have good reason to hope for a favourable roll of the balls but then City will also take heart from a result that suggests they can take on any opposition with confidence.