DThe first goal of the evening came before all the fans were in place: Kevin De Bruyne’s diving head after 93 seconds made it 1-0 for Manchester City against Real Madrid. After eleven minutes of play, Gabriel Jesus made it 2-0. Real were overwhelmed, overwhelmed, and at this point all indications were that City would advance to the final of the first match of the Champions League semi-final.
But after just over half an hour, Karim Benzema scored the goal for Real almost out of nowhere, even though City could have led by four goals at the time. A fascinating exchange of blows developed in the second half. City eventually won 4-3 in what the BBC described as football’s new ‘gold standard’.
City manager Pep Guardiola tried to downplay the importance of his team’s many missed chances at the post-match press conference – though he almost exploded in the 26th minute when Riyad Mahrez slammed the ball into the side netting instead of Phil Foden, who was free-kicking. .
“Even if the result was 2-0 or 3-0, we would have to go to the Bernabéu and play well,” he said, looking forward to next week’s second match in Madrid. But given his team’s unusual defensive weaknesses, he warned: “If we play like we did in the second half, we will not win.”
Guardiola has won all national titles with City in England; this season they could become champions for the fourth time in five years if they keep Liverpool in check until the last. But the Champions League, which club owner Sheikh Mansour craves more than anything else, has been a hard nut to crack.
Last season, they reached the final for the first time in the club’s history, but lost it to Chelsea. Guardiola won the Champions League twice with FC Barcelona, although these biggest triumphs in his coaching career are now eleven and thirteen years respectively.
Too many missed chances
And even though they left the field as winners on Tuesday, it must almost feel like a defeat for City. “I want to convince my players that we won the match,” Guardiola said, as if they had lost: “Stop!” For they were by far the best team in the long run, created a number of scoring chances, but left them for many of them unused.
And despite their superiority, they only go into the other leg with a knife-thin lead. The return is not in healthy proportion to the effort. Especially since a goal behind before the second game no reason for Real to fear.
In the round of 16, they lost their first match in Paris Saint-Germain 0-1, but won 3-1 at home. In the quarter-finals, they defeated Chelsea 3-1 in the first match, but were still close to elimination in the second match before saving themselves in extra time, with Benzema scoring the winning goal. Real coach Carlo Ancelotti seemed more relaxed than Guardiola after the final whistle on Tuesday. He told BT Sport television station: “These players are capable of not losing their minds when things are not going well.”
City have already proven their resilience this season. In the quarter-finals, they defended their narrow 1-0 lead from the first match against Atlético Madrid and played over time 0-0 in Madrid – despite shocking ranks at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, sometimes enormous pressure from the Spaniards and more than nine minutes break at due to a turbulent pack formation shortly before the end of the regular season.
And between the two legs, City also prevented Liverpool from overtaking them in the battle for the championship with a 2-2 draw in the Premier League top match. So they know about stress.
English press skeptical
The bottom line is that City had enough opportunities to go into the second game next Wednesday with a big lead. But it will be exciting as it is – the spectators can expect another exchange of blows with goals from both sides.
In any case, the English press is skeptical that a one-goal advantage over Real Madrid may not be enough. “Manchester City performed excellently in one of the biggest Champions League matches,” the BBC wrote. “But they must hope they have not left the door open for Real Madrid.” The Guardian also wrote: “It’s never a It’s a good thing to allow that opponent to continue fighting another day.”