RIP the Tactics Manual, throw down the whiteboard, toss the laptop stuffed with data analysis—and give us more of those, please.
We usually accuse Pep Guardiola of thinking too much at this stage of the Champions League – but it would be ridiculous to imagine that a great deal of meaningful thought went into that semi-final first leg.
City are set to take a narrow lead at the Bernabeu next Wednesday after a thrillingly anarchic amphetamine dream of what elite football shouldn’t be like.
Guardiola has managed similar Champions League victories here before – the 5-3 win over Monaco in 2017 and the 4-3 win over Spurs in 2019. City lost both games.
The city manager and Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti, who were five European champions together, might as well have gone to the pub and taken a night off.
The pounding pace, stunning quality, insane defence, lack of any discernible structure made this an exceptional night.
It couldn’t have been more different than City’s quarter-finals versus Atletico, Real’s cheeky crosstown rivals.
That was great. You couldn’t take your eyes off it. You couldn’t fucking explain it. And don’t miss the second helping from the Spanish capital next Wednesday.
City took a two-goal lead within 11 minutes, then again early in the second half and then again with 17 minutes left.
Each time, Real quickly brought them back to a single goal lead – Karim Benzema netted a terrific volley and a daring penalty, both sides of Vinicius embarrassing senior backup right-back Fernandinho.
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Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva all scored for City – De Bruyne and Foden were both in great form.
But City’s right-back crisis showed it – with Kyle Walker injured, Joao Cancelo suspended and a semi-fit John Stones making way for 36-year-old Fernandinho, tipped for Real’s second place by roadrunner Vinicius.
Despite some mass flag-waving, the pre-game atmosphere was hardly the stuff of bear pits.
At least not until locals started booing the Champions League theme, a tradition as well-observed as pie, chips and gravy from the Maine Road Chippy.
Nevertheless, the relative calm didn’t matter – City was in the lead after 94 seconds.
Riyad Mahrez hugged the touchline but immediately showed murderous intent, zigzagging past three Real players and dunking a delicious middle to the far post.
There, De Bruyne was nearly decapitated by Dani Carvajal as he stooped to go home.
The theme for the evening was actually set. No carotid artery would ever be safe.
Foden was in party mode, controlling with his chest on the sidelines and spinning past his man, then laying back for De Bruyne to feed Jesus, who spun a static David Alaba with ease and slammed him home.
Guardiola’s men were on two sides after eleven minutes and yet there were already signs their defense was shaky as Ederson had one of his easily distracted evenings.
However, Foden had the devil in him and produced the friendly softshoe takedown of a long pass that would have made Dimitar Berbatov blush.
The defense was slapstick – Eder Militao conceded a corner with a wild back pass, then a Ruben Dias error that hit him against the post after another Ederson brain atrophy.
De Bruyne was great in intention and technique. The Belgian plowed through two defenders before Mahrez hit the side netting when Foden was free.
Guardiola went thermonuclear and delivered a scolding rant at the Algerian.
As the merry mayhem continued, De Bruyne blasted a saucepot pass to release Foden, who drew wide.
Waste so many chances when Benzema is on the hunt and you will probably always pay for it.
That’s how it turned out, as Modric won a lively tackle and Ferland Mendy fired into the middle from the deep left, where the deadly Frenchman wrapped his leg around Oleksandr Zinchenko’s body and deflected a volley off the post.
Real’s defenders seemed to have ignored all of Ancelotti’s half-time instructions, you know, maybe not entirely on their guard.
Militao waved through Mahrez, who shot at the post and Foden’s weak follow-up shot was cleared by Carvajal.
Foden didn’t have to wait long, however. When Real got pricked trying to play from behind, Fernandinho tumbled, played a one-two and headed down the Englishman to hit the net.
Fernandinho’s glory was short-lived, Vinicius smashed him down the halfway line with a fake nutmeg and sprinted away at the angle to find the far corner for a stunning counterattack.
City’s fourth came when Zinchenko went down expecting a foul and Bernardo picked up the loose ball, looked up, spotted a gap and smacked it into the top corner.
This brought down the house. For want of something more useful, Guardiola took up cheerleading maniacally.
There was no sign it would end 4-2 – and so Aymeric Laporte headed a clearance attempt onto his own hand, referee Istvan Kovacs pointed to the spot and Benzema struck home with casual ferocity.
It was his ninth goal in four Champions League games and his 46th of the season overall.
Maybe it helps City that they abolished the away goals rule. Not that you would bet on Real winning the second leg 5-4.
So we drive from Madchester to Madrid. And don’t expect it to get any saner.
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/5209129/man-city-real-madrid-match-report-champions-league/ Magnificent City Edge Instant CLASSIC but late Benzema brilliance gives Spaniards last hope