When Real Madrid welcomed Manchester City to the Santiago Bernabeu, there was genuine concern from most football pundits on how City’s defence would cope against the Galacticos. Without Laporte, City have struggled to shut up shop and the Frenchman is yet play the whole 90 minutes after his return from injury. Pep Guardiola probably had that in his mind and went for a team selection that raised a few eyebrows.
Man City played without a striker for the majority of the match until Real Madrid scored against the run of play. Both Gundogan and Rodri started while Riyad Mahrez and Jesus played on the wings. De Bruyne was the furthest forward and the midfield maestro put in a brilliant performance.
The first half had chances at both ends and was evenly contested. Mahrez troubled Coutois a couple of times and Gabriel Jesus shot straight at the Real keeper after De Bruyne played a delicious ball to the Brazilian inside the box. On the other end of the pitch, Real Madrid had the best chance of the first half with Benzema getting the better of Laporte to head the ball on target. Ederson got down in time and made a huge save to deny the Frenchman a goal. Vinicius Junior missed the rebound completely. Man City had an effort from the corner scuffed off the line at the end of half-time.
The biggest worry for Man City in the first half was losing Laporte to injury again. The French defender walked off the pitch with a Hamstring injury and Fenandinho came in as his replacement.
City started the second half brightly but against the run of play, Real Madrid scored. City’s defence committed an array of mistakes starting from Otamendi losing the ball to Walker failing to tackle. Vinicius Junior made no mistake though and squared the ball to Isco. The Spanish attacking midfielder fired his shot past Ederson into the goal. Man City were the creators of their own downfall and Madrid smelled blue blood. For the next few minutes, Real Madrid were on top and had a couple of chances. Isco’s cut-back was fired high by his captain Ramos.
Pep Guardiola shuffled his formation and Jesus was playing in a more central role now. Manchester City showed the ultimate Kings of Europe how they became the back to back Champions of England by responding to adversity in style. With half a dozen Real Madrid shirts around him, the Man City captain Kevin De Bruyne found a way to cross the ball and Gabriel Jesus headed the ball into the net.
Raheem Sterling’s introduction had certainly changed the balance of the game and Man City were causing more trouble in the final third. Man City’s persistence paid when Sterling was brought down inside the box by Carvajal. The referee pointed to the spot and Kevin De Bruyne stepped up to end City’s drought from the penalty spot. The City captain sent Courtois the wrong way and drilled it into the back of the net.
Man City’s dominance almost paid as they came close to getting the third goal. Gabriel Jesus won the ball in a dangerous area and was through on goal against Courtois. Before the Brazilian could fire a shot, Sergio Ramos nudged him from behind just outside the box and the Real Madrid captain was sent off for denying the Brazilian a clear goal scoring opportunity.
Man City won a big away game against the 13 time European Champions and the most decorated football club on the planet by coming from behind in a stadium that can be intimidating to most clubs. Man City’s victory is the first win for an English club at the Santiago Bernabeu in 11 years.
De Bruyne’s magnificence is well-known and he was pivotal to Man City securing the victory at Madrid but there were several others who were excellent. Gabriel Jesus’ commitment to track back was a clear sign of how much City wanted the Champions League. Gundogan who was scapegoated for Man City’s losses in the Premier League looked very comfortable playing alongside Rodri against top quality opposition. Even Otamendi, despite his early hiccup, managed to keep the aerial threat of Real Madrid at bay while Walker’s pace managed to extinguish most of Real Madrid’s attack coming from their left wing.
The performance vindicated Pep Guardiola and Man City have learnt from their surprise defeats at the hands of Liverpool and Tottenham in the last 2 seasons of the Champions League.
It would be tough to not make Man City favourites for the European crown if they beat Real Madrid again in the second leg. In fact, Man City managed to beat Zidane’s rejuvenated Real Madrid without having to call upon the services of Sergio Aguero and David Silva. With the Premier League most likely out of reach, the reigning English Champions would now focus totally on the big prize hoping to swap the label of English Champions for the title of European Champions.
Man City’s response after going down to Real Madrid is a warning to any football fan and pundit who has written the club off after their slip in the Premier League this season after dominating English football consecutively for two years.