Advantage Manchester City after thrilling 3-3 draw against Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu | Football News - Hindustan Times

Advantage Manchester City after thrilling 3-3 draw against Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu

Apr 10, 2024 07:41 PM IST

Real Madrid are Champions League’s most successful team but they have never won at City and will be without Tchouaméni who is suspended for the return leg.

And so, over to the Etihad in eight days after a 3-3 draw that in the time of the Indian Premier League felt like teams having settled down after big powerplays before coming strongly at the end. No team has won as many Champions League titles as Real Madrid’s 14 and no team is as used to late twists in Europe as they are. Exactly why what this sentence may not age well but it’s advantage Manchester City in the return-leg of the quarter-final.

Manchester City's Phil Foden celebrates scoring their second goal with manager Pep Guardiola and Ruben Dias.(REUTERS)
Manchester City's Phil Foden celebrates scoring their second goal with manager Pep Guardiola and Ruben Dias.(REUTERS)

There are no away goals in the Champions League meaning that a 1-0 win could nick a semi-final berth. The odds on that happening would be high. As per Opta, of the four games where both teams have scored more than three goals in the Champions League, two have featured Real Madrid and Manchester City. It is proof of the sheer quality of the attacking talent available. Also, Tuesday was the ninth time the defending champions have scored three goals in Europe this season. The number of Champions League games played by City? Nine.

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Bernardo Silva (2), Phil Foden (66) and Josko Gvardiol (71) scored what felt like wonder goals before Federico Valverde (79) made them look nearly ordinary. Three goals in clumps came late in the game and by the 14th minute when Silva’s strike was neutralised by Eduardo Camavinga’s shot taking a big deflection off Ruben Dias (12th) before Real Madrid used the precision of Vinicius Jr and the speed of Rodrygo to break City’s high line. 0-1 to 2-1 in 12 minutes in his 200th Champions League game meant even Carlo Ancelotti couldn’t stay poker-faced.

And what about those who didn’t score? Jack Grealish drew fouls like moths to a flame. It was a rash tackle on him that meant Aurélien Tchouaméni will miss next week’s clash. To the surprise of everyone at the blindingly white Bernabéu, Silva aimed and executed a near-post finish as cheeky as it was perfect. No one had scored that soon in the Champions League at Real Madrid in six years.

It was Grealish again who set up Gvardiol. Minutes earlier, he had dragged Dani Carvajal, a right-back who often freelanced as a forward, to the goalline. This time, Grealish went in the opposite direction. Gvardiol’s first touch took the ball away but also gave him the time and space to blast home because Toni Kroos was late in attempting the block.

They interpret the wide left position differently but what Grealish did, Vinicius Jr did too. The Brazilian found Valverde with a pass that showed how much more he can offer beyond his goals. Apart from being a step behind when Gvardiol scored, Kroos was solid as a holding midfielder giving Camavinga the licence to stay up.

So easily did Kroos’ replacement Luka Modric slot in that it didn’t look like the Croat was a late substitute. But for excellent interventions from John Stones, two Modric deliveries would have ensured Jude Bellingham was remembered for more than arguing with referee Francois Letexier. Erling Haaland is too big a presence to not be noticed but if he had the fewest touches (20) for an outfield player, it was because Antonio Rüdiger and Tchouaméni formed a tag team that had his number. And because the Kroos-led midfield could cut out passing routes City found for the Norwegian.

For Real Madrid, football’s about transitions and individual ability. For City, it is about control exerted by the collective. As per Opta, Real had 38.3% possession but 14 shots on goal, two more than City. But City had six shots on target to Real’s five.

As different as they are, it is difficult to disagree with Real Madrid legend Iker Casillas’ assertion that this was a meeting of the two best teams in the world. Possibly explains why Pep Guardiola said he didn’t want to make much of not being able to close out the game. “It’s fine, it’s the Bernabéu, my friend,” the City manager said at the press conference. “Real are the kings of this competition.. It’s impossible to control all the time against Madrid.”

To take a point from a team that had nine days’ rest before this game – in which time City played Aston Villa and Crystal Palace – and without Kevin de Bruyne, Kyle Walker and Nathan Ake should give Guardiola’s team confidence ahead of the return leg. Especially after scoring thrice from outside the penalty area.

Real have not won at Etihad in five attempts and City haven’t lost there in 16 games this term. They haven’t lost this year, the unbeaten run now stretching to 26 games and haven’t lost a home game in the Champions League since 2018. Add to that Real being forced into a new central defensive pairing.

Arsenal restricted City to one shot on target at home this term but Real are not known for being tight. Real have won convincingly at Liverpool, Juventus, Barcelona and Bayern. Can they add Etihad to that list? “Now we have a small disadvantage because we play away from home, but with the confidence that we can repeat this performance,” said Ancelotti.

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    Dhiman Sarkar is based in Kolkata and has been a sport journalist for over three decades. He writes mainly on football.

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