/ 27 April 2022

Three things we learned from Manchester City v Real Madrid

Man City De Bruyne
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City celebrates scoring their 1st goal with Phil Foden of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Leg One match between Manchester City and Real Madrid at City of Manchester Stadium on April 26, 2022 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Manchester City beat Real Madrid 4-3 in an incredible Champions League semi-final first leg on Tuesday.

AFP Sport looks at three things we learned from a thrilling clash at the Etihad Stadium:

Guardiola’s emotional rollercoaster

Punching the air both in ecstasy and agony at various times during an astonishing contest, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola rode an emotional rollercoaster on the touchline.

For such an accomplished manager, Guardiola has endured a frustrating time in the Champions League over the last decade.

The Spaniard hasn’t won the competition since 2011, when Barcelona lifted the trophy for the second time in his reign.

His record is littered with painful and unexpected defeats during his City and Bayern Munich reigns.

Guardiola did lead City to their first Champions League final last season, but even then his side appeared unsettled by his curious team selection in a limp 1-0 defeat against Chelsea.

However much he protests, Guardiola would dearly love to silence the critics who remind him of his European failures and that ambition was laid bare in his frenzied reactions to the twists and turns against Real.

Guardiola clenched his fists and wore a wide smile after Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus put City two up by the 11th minute.

But Guardiola saw the worst as well as the best of his scintillating team, with a host of missed chances and some slipshod defending allowing Real back into a tie in which they should have been dead and buried.

When Riyad Mahrez fired into the side-netting instead of passing to the unmarked Phil Foden who would have had a tap-in for 3-0, Guardiola was incandescent with rage, leaping off the bench as he ranted and raved while flailing his arms in frustration.

City’s profligacy continued in the second half, with Mahrez and Foden guilty of misses that left Guardiola holding his head in disbelief.

With a second leg still to come on May 4, Guardiola will be back on the rollercoaster at the Bernabeu.

Real refuse to surrender

Rocked by City’s blistering start, Real yet again defied expectations with a stirring fightback.

Real had already staged memorable escape acts in the last 16 against Paris Saint Germain and the quarter-finals against Chelsea when they appeared to be heading towards elimination.

With the 13-time Champions League winners on the ropes once more, Karim Benzema’s predatory instincts gave them a lifeline with a deft finish in the 33rd minute.

If Benzema, a four-time Champions League winner, is the figurehead of Real’s old guard, then Vinicius Junior represents a potentially vibrant future and he underlined the point with a breathtaking goal just moments after Real had fallen 3-1 down.

The 21-year-old Brazilian embarrassed Fernandinho with an audacious dummy that sent the ball through the City player’s legs, allowing Vinicius to showcase his electric pace as he raced clear to slot past Ederson.

Incredibly, even City’s fourth goal wasn’t enough to subdue Real and Benzema struck with a flamboyant ‘Panenka’ penalty in the 82nd minute to keep the tie on a knife-edge.

The 34-year-old is now this season’s Champions League leading scorer with 14 goals.

Brilliant De Bruyne

Pep Guardiola believes Kevin De Bruyne is playing better than ever and City’s sublime midfielder didn’t disappoint when the stakes were highest.

The 30-year-old suffered a difficult first half of the season marred by fitness problems.

But he has been back to his brilliant best in recent weeks as City try to hold onto their one-point lead over Liverpool in the Premier League, while aiming to win the Champions League for the first time.

The best players deliver on the biggest stages and it was De Bruyne who set the tone as City tore into Real.

He made a perfectly timed run for his headed goal after just 93 seconds, then provided a slide-rule pass for Gabriel Jesus to score the second.

De Bruyne was at the heart of all City’s best moments and easily outshone Real playmaker Luka Modric in their midfield battle. 

© Agence France-Presse