The five ways Real Madrid outfoxed Man City in penalty shootout

Antonio Rudiger after Real Madrid's penalty shootout victory over Manchester City

Contrary to the hackneyed cliché, penalty shootouts are not a lottery. Scoring and saving penalties are skills in their own right, while strategy and psychology also play their part.

So it proved on Wednesday as Real Madrid got the better of Manchester City to reach the Champions League semi-finals, with the Spanish club exploiting every possible edge available to them.

Given City’s dominance in normal time, it was hardly a just outcome, but knockout football does not care for fairness and no club has been more successful at winning by any means necessary than Real.

These are some of the marginal, but telling, wins that swung penalties their way at the Etihad.

Bernardo Silva’s long wait

The odds were stacked against Real after Luka Modric saw their first spot kick of the shootout saved, but Bernardo then spurned the chance to put City in control with a dismal attempt.

Strangely for a player so technically accomplished, Bernardo appeared caught in about three minds as he clipped a tame penalty straight down the middle for goalkeeper Andriy Lunin to catch. It was a penalty lacking in power, direction and disguise.

Bernardo may not have been helped by the fact he had to wait around a minute to take his kick, after Modric had booted the ball into the crowd after his miss.

Kepa’s influence

Kepa Arrizabalaga was Real Madrid’s substitute goalkeeper, a player who faced Manchester City several times as a Chelsea player, including in a Carabao Cup final penalty shootout in 2019.

That was the occasion Kepa refused to be substituted for Willy Caballero, a piece of insubordination for which he was later fined, but it may have provided Real with some precious intelligence.

Kepa Arrizabalaga giving advice to Real Madrid goalkeeper Lunin before the shootout
Kepa Arrizabalaga giving advice to Real Madrid goalkeeper Lunin before the shootout - TNT Sports

Viewers spotted Kepa issuing instructions to Lunin before the shootout, playing the role of goalkeeper coach. Interestingly, Bernardo took a penalty against Kepa at Wembley in 2019, and went straight down the middle.

Identifying City’s players who would go down the middle

Speaking to Marca after the game, Lunin revealed Real had identified three City players who could go down the middle with their penalties. We can safely assume Bernardo was one of them.

“We prepared it with the goalkeeping coach and there were three players with whom we had doubts about whether to stay in the middle or not,” Lunin said.

The goalkeeper added: “I needed to take a risk with one of the kicks, we picked one (to stay in the middle) and thank goodness it worked out in our favour.”

There has always been debate in goalkeeping circles about whether it is best to dive early, which brings the risk of guessing the wrong way, or waiting, which brings the risk of not being able to reach the corners.

It is a game of chicken between goalkeeper and taker. Arsenal goalkeeper David Raya was rewarded against Porto for diving early, but the strategy worked against him when facing Bayern Munich’s Harry Kane in the quarter-final first leg.

Lunin stood his ground against Bernardo and the gamble paid off.

Rudiger pointing to Lunin

Another former Chelsea player with local knowledge, Rudiger pointed to his left when former team-mate Mateo Kovacic stood up to take City’s third penalty.

Lunin heeded his advice, and saved diving to his right after Kovacic went the way Rudiger suggested.

It was the first of two important contributions from the German defender, who stepped up the score the penalty that sent Real through after Phil Foden and Ederson had scored.

The Real players who sat out

Players who turn down a penalty are often accused of lacking courage, but perhaps it takes a certain strength of character to turn away from a chance of glory for the team’s benefit.

According to Marca, centre-back Eder Militao decided against taking a penalty because Brazil team-mate Ederson had faced him in training. Given how Rudiger helped foil Kovacic, that may have been a wise call.

Federico Valverde also did not take a penalty, citing fatigue, but his team-mates Jude Bellingham, Lucas Vasquez, Nacho and Rudiger stepped up and did the job.