Manchester City came back from 1-0 down to win away from home at the Santiago Bernabeu against Real Madrid in the 1st leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie.
Pep Guardiola named a strange starting XI for the visitors. One that almost no-one would’ve been able to predict or even contemplate. Aguero, Sterling and Fernandinho all benched, with Bernardo Silva and De Bruyne playing up front. The Belgian being a false 9, with Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez as the two wingers. As always, Pep throws in a curve-ball when we least expect it.
Zinedine Zidane also made some surprise inclusions. Vinicius Jr and Isco started with Gareth Bale and Kroos on the bench.
FIRST HALF – Real Madrid blunt in attack
The first half was hardly one of the more exciting ones we’ve seen in the Champions League knockouts stages so far. Real Madrid looked blunt in attack. Lots of possession, but really slow in attack and hardly threatening. Manchester City were once the side with less of the ball. Guardiola playing counter attacking football and hitting the home side on the break. Who would’ve thought it
The first chance of the game fell to the Citizens in 20th minute when Jesus was put through on goal by Kevin De Bruyne. However the Brazilian’s shot was saved by Courtois and too close to the keeper to really trouble him.
As aforementioned, Los Blancos were slow in attack. But in the 30th minute, Ferland Mendy’s cross was headed down by Benzema and parried out by Ederson. Vinicius had a golden chance yards from the goal to open his account for the Spanish side, but slipped at the crucial moment. Huge chance missed.
An injury to Aymeric Laporte in the 32nd minute meant Guardiola was forced to bring on Fernandinho. Could be a huge blow ahead of the League Cup Final and return leg at the Etihad.
The half ended with a scare for Real. De Bruyne’s corner was dealt with cleanly by Courtois. Jesus’ off-target shot was almost deflected in by Sergio Ramos, but eventually cleared away. 0-0 at the break.
SECOND HALF – Manchester City comeback
The second half was far more exciting and what you expect from two top sides. Riyad Mahrez was involved left right and centre in the first 10 minutes. Two shots in the 55th and 56th minute both with his right foot. Both saved by Courtois. The second one in particular was a good save with a powerful shot by the Algerian parried away with a strong right hand.
Then against the run of play, a mix up at the back between Otamendi and Rodri put Vinicius through. The Brazilian kept a cool head and didn’t let his missed chance from earlier affect him. Passes it across goal for Isco to finish well into the bottom right corner. 1-0 to the home side with a bit of luck for Zidane’s men.
For the next 15-20 minutes or so, Los Blancos started gaining momentum and creating chances. If it wasn’t for key blocks and interceptions by Fernandinho from Carvajal and Isco’s shots, it could have been more on the night for Real. Outstanding display from the 34 year old Brazilian.
However, Kevin De Bruyne showed why he is one of the best footballers in the world. A brilliant curling cross into the box was met by a Gabriel Jesus, who’s header managed to beat Courtois. Poor from Sergio Ramos who misjudged the height of the ball and the Belgian keeper with the header not being that powerful. City got their away goal and Guardiola’s tactics were paying off.
Once again, the momentum shifted towards the away side. Jesus had another headed chance minutes later which he couldn’t keep down. Then, fresh off the bench Raheem Sterling was brought down in the box after a poor challenge by Dani Carvajal. The penalty was given and De Bruyne slotted it away, sending Courtois the wrong way. Ice cool from the Belgian maestro.
To make matters worse for a shell shocked Madrid, Casemiro plays a poor back pass, putting Jesus through on goal. Ramos takes one for the team and brings him down just outside the box and is sent off. The 26th red card of his career and a fair one, as the striker was the last man. Misery compiler for Zidane’s men.
Advantage Manchester City
Now suddenly, a 2-1 win away at the Bernabeu with Ramos missing the 2nd leg has put City in pole position. A tactical stroke of genius from Pep Guardiola. No one expected it and everyone questioned it. However it managed to pay off. Lots of work for Real Madrid and Zidane to do ahead of the game in Manchester, in a few weeks time…
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