Real Madrid and Man City all square in finely poised Champions League semi-final
Manchester City came from behind to secure a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final showdown against holders Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Tuesday night.
Pep Guardiola’s side – who are pursuing the treble – came unstuck in the Spanish capital at this stage last season, losing 6-5 on aggregate, and for a while looked like they would fall victim to Real’s remarkable hold over the tournament once again.
Despite enjoying prolonged spells of possession, City went behind to a magnificent strike from Vinicius Junior but a wondergoal of their own from Kevin De Bruyne evened things up – with everything to play for in next week’s second leg at the Etihad.
The visitors made a strong start to the match, penning Carlo Ancelotti’s Copa del Rey winners back inside their own box with a mixture of relentless pressure and energy-sapping possession.
De Bruyne and Rodri both stung the palms of Thibaut Courtois with long-range efforts, while Erling Haaland perhaps should have done better with two good chances. Such was City’s early dominance, the Bernabeu became a cauldron of nervous whistling and anxiety.
Yet, in many respects, the flow of the game suited Real’s gameplan and they had a number of nearly moments; Ederson was forced to rush from his line to prevent Karim Benzema from being played in, while Ruben Dias also produced a monumental last-ditch clearance.
In the 36th minute, Real’s counter-attack finally clicked to conjure up a moment of magic to take the lead – the kind that had propelled them to glory in last season’s competition, and which no doubt lingered in the backs of the City players’ minds.
Eduardo Camavinga launched into a powerful run from left-back, eating up the grass, and played the ball inside for Vinicius. The Brazilian – who was afforded far too much space – took a touch just outside the area, let the ball roll across him and then rifled a thunderous effort into the top corner.
City lost some of their early composure and control after the goal, while Real were turning the contest into a dogfight with some very physical challenges. When the half-time whistle was blown, the hosts had mustered just one shot on target and 32% possession yet held the lead.
The second half started in similar fashion with City dominating the ball but not quite using it quickly or decisively enough, while Real remained dangerous on the break. Benzema was played in after some slick, one-touch play but his effort flew over the crossbar via a small deflection.
Slowly Real started to take a greater degree of control in the match, stopping City from playing out and penning them in inside their own box; now it was the visitors who were having to put their bodies on the line.
Yet, just when the Spanish giants were starting to sniff a second goal, Rodri won possession high up the pitch to launch a rare counter from City; Ilkay Gundogan laid off the ball perfectly for De Bruyne, who blasted the ball past countryman Courtois without breaking stride.
Real Madrid looked the more likely to find a winner late on, with Ederson producing a fine stop to claw away a Benzema header and substitute Aurelien Tchouameni stinging the Brazilian’s palms from range, and in truth City looked quite content to take a 1-1 draw back to the Etihad.
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