Roll on the Bernabeu as Manchester City and Real Madrid serve up Champions League classic

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 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Manchester City are 90 minutes away from a second successive Champions League Final – but after a breathless, reckless first leg against Real Madrid, who would dare predict the outcome of this tie?

Pep Guardiola’s side scored four – and it is no exaggeration to say they could and should have doubled that figure.

Real, meanwhile, largely made the most of their chances to stay in touching distance when humiliation, at times, felt inevitable, but may yet regret David Alaba heading wide from close range in the first half.

A 4-3 scoreline means this semi-final is deliciously poised for the second leg and next week cannot come soon enough.

If both sides approach it in the same manner, then another goal-fest is on the cards at the Bernabeu, but it is hard to imagine either manager being content to play with such abandon in Madrid.

For Real’s part, it felt like they were helpless to stop City in full flow, particularly in the opening periods of each half.

Guardiola, however, will know his side were guilty of creating many of their own problems – failing to kill off their opponents when in total control – and repeatedly handing them lifelines.

Aymeric Laporte’s handball in the box late on means City head to Spain with the slenderest of leads, with the irrepressible Karim Benzema taking an 82nd-minute Panenka penalty to complete the scoring on the night.

The veteran Frenchman continues to find new levels and as long as he is in this Real side, along with Luka Modric, no amount of adversity is enough to see them crumble.

The Spanish giants looked to have met their match when City started at break-neck speed, raced to a 2-0 lead inside 11 minutes and threatened to kill the tie before the half-hour mark.

Kevin de Bruyne stooped to head his side in front after just two minutes, with Real yet to get out of their own half.

Then he turned provider, playing in Gabriel Jesus in the box, who spun Alaba with ease and swept home from close range.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Real looked shell-shocked – and it could have been so much worse when Riyad Mahrez fired into the side netting when he should have crossed, before Phil Foden fired narrowly wide with Thibaut Courtois to beat.

Given the pattern of the match, few could have predicted City would come to count the cost of those wasted chances.

But there were small signs of Real’s threat each time Benzema and Modric got on the ball to ease that sense of panic and break City’s dominance.

Vinicius Junior also showed glimpses of what was to come in those moments, targeting John Stones, who was playing out of position at right back, with doubts about his fitness.

Alaba’s missed header was a sign of Real’s growing threat and it was Benzema who fired his side back into the match with a typically deadly strike from just inside the box, taking Ferland Mendy’s cross in his stride.

Mahrez had another chance to extend City’s lead straight after the break when racing through one-on-one with Courtois, but hit the post. From the rebound, Foden’s effort was cleared off the line by Dani Carvajal.

But the England international restored the two-goal advantage when Fernandinho, who had come on for Stones, burst down the right and crossed for him to head home from inside the six-yard box.

 (AP)
(AP)

Two minutes later and Fernandinho turned villain when left standing by Vinicius on the halfway line. The Brazilian winger ran all the way into the City box before sliding a shot past Ederson on the angle.

The home side could not get close to him and increasingly Real looked in his direction to do damage, but instead went two behind again when Bernardo Silva blasted into the top corner in the 74th minute.

Real’s defenders had stopped when expecting referee Istvan Kovacs to give a foul on the edge of the box as Toni Kroos took out Oleks Zinchenko. City played on and Bernardo took full advantage of the advantage.

Just when it looked like Guardiola would head to Madrid with a two-goal cushion, there was time for one more twist, with Laporte handling and Benzema capitalising.

There were still chances for City to restore their advantage, but the finely-poised nature of this tie only adds to the anticipation ahead of their next meeting - when nothing can be ruled out.

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