MADRID, Spain, Feb 26 – Manchester City secured the landmark Champions League win they have long waited for as Pep Guardiola’s men came from behind to beat Real Madrid 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Isco’s goal from a rare City mistake on the hour mark threatened to inflict another hard luck story on the biggest stage for the English champions.
However, Gabriel Jesus’s header and Kevin De Bruyne’s penalty in the final 12 minutes means the tie is very much in City’s favour heading back to Manchester for the return leg on March 17.
Guardiola gets it right
Guardiola has often been accused of overthinking his tactics for big Champions League clashes during his nine-year drought without winning the competition.
The Catalan characteristically sprang a surprise with his team selection. Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho started on the bench, Jesus in an unfamiliar role wide on the left and De Bruyne left to often plough a lonely furrow in the first half as City’s most advanced player.
However, this time Guardiola’s plan to limit Madrid and protect a leaky defence that undermined City’s chances of the Premier League title this season came to fruition.
One moment of madness from Rodrigo and Nicolas Otamendi threatened to undo that good work as Isco pounced after good work from Vinicius Junior to put Madrid in front.
However, Jesus more than justified his selection ahead of Aguero by heading home 12 minutes from time.
Guardiola had introduced Sterling by that point and his pace provoked a lunge from Dani Carvajal.
Four different City players have missed from the spot this season, but De Bruyne is not one of them and he sent his Belgian international teammate Thibaut Courtois the wrong way to secure a famous win.
Madrid feel Ronaldo void
Real boss Zinedine Zidane has never lost a Champions League tie in charge, but this was also the first time the Frenchman has faced the knockout stages without Cristiano Ronaldo.
In his first spell as coach, Real won three consecutive European Cups, often thanks to being bailed out by the Portuguese when it mattered most.
Without the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, Madrid simply do not carry the same fear factor.
City were comfortable as most Madrid attacks meandered slowly from side-to-side in front of them with little threat in behind.
A lack of goals has been a consistent problem for Zidane’s men all season and now they need to score at least twice at the Etihad to progress.
No UEFA conspiracy against City
Outraged by a two-season ban from European football for the next two years handed down by UEFA, many City fans feared a stitch up against the 13-time winners.
Plenty of visiting sides have felt hard done by when it comes to refereeing decisions on a European night at the Bernabeu.
However, the big decisions all went City’s way. Sergio Ramos felt he was pushed by Jesus as the two leapt for City’s equaliser, but VAR did not intervene.
Italian referee Daniele Orsato then had no hesitation in pointing to the spot when Sterling was chopped down by Carvajal.
And Ramos was shown a red card late on for bringing down Jesus just outside the area meaning Madrid will be without their captain for the second leg.