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▶ Real Madrid and Man City produce out-of-control Champions League battle for the ages [2024/04/14   ]

The grip of Real Madrid upon the modern Champions League will not easily be shifted, and once again Pep Guardiola’s team heads towards the second leg of an epic knockout tie with enough doubts to make it interesting.

This was, Guardiola said on many occasions once all the drama was over, a great result for his team, ahead twice and between times a goal behind for almost half the 90 minutes. “This is the Bernabeu, my friend,” he said when challenged as to whether Manchester City might have expected more. There was enough throughout this evening to sustain two great Champions League games and at times there was not the control to which City were accustomed.

City had the lead, they lost it, they regained it – and eventually, a first-time hit from Federico Valverde from the right channel gave Real a draw. An engrossing night of football, but it only really looked like City – champions of England, Europe and the world – once Guardiola had straightened his players out at half-time. Phil Foden would score a splendid left-footed shot for 2-2 on 66 minutes. The second of three City goals that were all struck from outside the area – first from Bernardo Silva, and then from Josko Gvardiol.

Yet in the first half City’s game was spun off its usual axis by the tempest that was the home attack. After Bernardo’s second minute free-kick, Real scored twice within the space of 114 seconds – an Eduardo Camavinga shot deflected in off Ruben Dias and then a fast-break from Rodrygo. Real blew through City in that period. “We wanted Manchester City to be uncomfortable,” Carlo Ancelotti said later and when a chance fell to Vinicius to extend Real’s lead to 3-1, it might have got very uncomfortable for City. Vinicius missed what might have been a defining moment.

There are not many chances to finish off the great modern powerhouse of City – and this was one. Guardiola would later talk about his team being “stable emotionally” in these challenging periods in games. “It’s fundamental,” he said, reflecting that in the early seasons of his time in Manchester, a game such as this would have been lost by City teams past unaccustomed to the pressures exerted.

With City having established control of the game at 3-2, it was Luka Modric who came on for Real in the immediate aftermath of Gvardiol’s goal. At 38, the great Croatian is still capable of taking grip of a game and his was the pass before the pass for Valverde’s equaliser. Modric is just shy of two months older than Wayne Rooney.

Another midfielder for the ages, Kevin De Bruyne, had been in the original City starting XI until he was struck down with an illness that Guardiola said was so severe the great Belgian had vomited in the pre-match period after the team arrived at the stadium. “One of the secrets of the high level is you adapt quickly to chaos,” Guardiola said. But as the game developed it was the absence of the injured Kyle Walker at right-back and the adaptable defensive qualities of Nathan Ake that seemed to damage City the most.

Yet City were renewed in the second half. The ragged nature of the team shape that had looked so exposed in the first half when Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and the restless figure of Jude Bellingham, put their usual rhythms under great pressure, was reformed. John Stones stepped into midfield again and the tight, crisp passing was back. The patient annexation of territory was familiar. Guardiola said that Foden had not really been involved in the first half, but here he was certainly present in the second.

Later Guardiola would say that it was pursuing the idea that was crucial in these moments. “We believe in how we do it,” he said, “but it’s impossible to control all the time against Real Madrid. Stick with the plan in the bad moments.”

Stick with it they did, through a first half when Rodri in particular, such a towering figure in the English and Spanish game, was not his usual dominant self. Neither was Erling Haaland, and for the Norwegian, such an object of fascination at the Bernabeu, it never really changed. There were just 20 touches for him all night and perhaps the most notable was him chasing back into his own half later in the game to tackle Vinicius. A forgettable night for him in battle with Antonio Rudiger.

For Bellingham the game did not yield the goal, or indeed the kind of chances, that have characterised his first Real season, although his personality in this game was unmistakable. He led the team in the early stages and it was he who made clearest to the French referee François Letexier that Real did not believe they were getting the fouls owed to them.

Bernardo had scored after two minutes with an unorthodox low free-kick that caught goalkeeper Andriy Lunin on the wrong foot. It had been won by a Jack Grealish run that caused chaos for Real and put Aurelien Tchouameni on an immediate booking that rules him out of the second leg.

Then Camavinga ran away from Grealish on the right and cut in with his left foot, to hit a shot that struck Dias and left Stefan Ortega with nowhere to go. The second was Rodrygo running through the high line of City’s defence to then double back and slip the ball back through the legs of Manuel Akanji before finishing.

Foden’s second half equaliser was another great lightning bolt of individual skill – and yet, as with City when they are at their best, it felt like it was coming. Five minutes later, Gvardiol took a loose touch from Grealish’s pass and then with a swing dispatched City’s third past Lunin. The Modric factor was to make a difference and his pass to Vinicius created the space for Valverde’s splendid goal.

- The origianl text resource is from Yahoo Sports

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