Irresistible Man City miss golden chance to vanquish Real Madrid as another Champions League classic beckons

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·4-min read
Irresistible Man City miss golden chance to vanquish Real Madrid as another Champions League classic beckons
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Spain’s champions-elect were made to look like chumps. The all-time kings of Europe reduced to the role of fools. Real Madrid endured a chastening night at the hands of Manchester City, when their very place in history was rocked to the core. Yet they head to the Bernabeu next week with everything to play for.

This Champions League semi-final should have been over after half an hour, with Real humbled and humiliated by City’s sheer superiority. But Pep Guardiola’s side head to Spain with the slenderest 4-3 advantage after a night when it was impossible to shake the sense that an opportunity had been missed.

It was notable that the Catalan needed to remind his players after this thrilling, breathless and reckless clash that they had won on the night. It felt like he was trying to convince himself.

“Football is football, the result is the result, but how we performed is exceptional,” said Guardiola. “Nobody can say the performance was not good. I want to convince my players that we won the game and lift their heads up.”

City were irresistible at times. They scored four and could have comfortably doubled that figure.

Even after Karim Benzema’s Panenka penalty late completed the scoring, the home side had at least two more glorious chances to further extend their lead. It was that kind of night, with Real helpless to stop City when they were in full flow.

But Carlo Ancelotti’s side do not know when they are beaten. That weight of history means there is never a lost cause – and with players like Benzema, Luka Modric and Vinicius Junior, they always have a chance.

“If Real have three chances, they will score five goals,” said one Spanish journalist before kick-off. And while that was not the case, it was remarkable how they made the most of the moments when they came their way.

Benzema’s ageless brilliance was on show again after disposing of Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea in the previous two rounds. At the Etihad, he had three shots and two goals, with the other effort blocked.

City had done well early on to force him to do much of his work in deep areas to keep him away from the danger zone. In reality, his composure on the ball only helped to settle Real at the point when the City storm was at its most ferocious.

Manchester City should have been out of sight against Real Madrid after just half an hour of the semi-final first-leg clash (Manchester City FC via Getty Images)
Manchester City should have been out of sight against Real Madrid after just half an hour of the semi-final first-leg clash (Manchester City FC via Getty Images)

His first goal served notice to City of the danger of playing with too much abandon, halving the deficit after Kevin de Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus had fired the home side into a 2-0 lead inside 11 minutes. It instilled an uncertainty in Guardiola’s rearguard that remained throughout and is sure live on into next week’s second leg.

Who would be brave enough to predict the outcome of that match, which cannot come soon enough? The expectation would be that both teams would try to tighten up defensively, but the question is whether either can?

Real looked as vulnerable as they did in their quarter-final second leg against Chelsea, when they were blown away in front of their own fans by Thomas Tuchel’s side. Only the cushion of their 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge – and the brilliance of Modric and Benzema – saw them stumble over the line.

Against City their tactic appeared to be no more than riding the storm and seizing their own moments. Guardiola – who was without a recognised right-back last night – will see his team significantly improved by the return of Joao Cancelo from suspension. But how Ruben Dias or Aymeric Laporte recover from such a wounding experience remains to be seen.

But inspired by the ageless brilliance of Karim Benzema, the LaLiga champions-elect never know when they are beaten (AFP via Getty Images)
But inspired by the ageless brilliance of Karim Benzema, the LaLiga champions-elect never know when they are beaten (AFP via Getty Images)

“If we play like we did in the second half, we won’t be able to win,” said Guardiola. “If we play like we did at other periods, we will. When I became a footballer and a manager, when you go to the Bernabeu there is no option but to win. You have to come through these situations to win the Champions League.”

Ancelotti, meanwhile, warned City they might have missed a golden chance to secure their place in a second successive final.

“It is a defeat that leaves us alive in the second leg,” he said. “We have to be better in our defensive aspect, but I believe we are able to create problems for them also.

“In the second game I think if we defend better, we will win - but if we defend like today, we will be out of the competition.”

Another classic lies in wait.

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