Battle of the heavyweights
After the titanic battle at City’s Etihad ground last week this game was one that everybody in football watched with interest. Manchester City were in pole position to reach their second final in two seasons and Madrid were going to need a huge game to overhaul the once goal deficit.
Pre match the predictions seemed to all point at Guardiola’s men as winners but this Madrid side do not know when they are beaten. Two giants of European football paid the price for briefly taking their foot off the Spanish sides neck and paid the price. PSG were seemingly coasting their way to a semi final when Karim Benzema decided enough was enough. Then Chelsea battled to overcome their own deficit only to be sucker-punched by a Luca Modric pass of the decade. This Madrid side do not know when they are beaten.
Manchester City have been ruthless in their chase for another Premier League title and each time Liverpool have knocked the ball into their court to apply pressure. City go up a notch and comfortably place 3-4 goals past their opponents to extend their lead. This game was supposed to show that they were ready to take their English dominance into the next stratosphere and finally dominate Europe in the same manner.
City in the driving seat
Let us put this in perspective. Real Madrid had ZERO shots on target for 89 minutes. Karim Benzema cut a frustrated figure as he rarely touched the ball in the opponents area. Manchester City although not exactly on fire played like a boxer seeing out the final rounds of a fight. Keeping the opponent at an arms length. Then delivering a devastating blow when least expecting it. When Riyad Mahrez scored on 73 mins the game was done and dusted.
Madrid were in state of shock and despite City losing De Bruyne and Walker within minutes of each other they were in control of the game. Madrid were beginning to show signs of frustration as their hopes seemed more desperate by the minute. If anything City were beginning to toy with their hosts with Grealish and Gundogan pulling the strings.
Grealish was denied a superb individual goal when his cross was somehow kept out by Mendy. Then moments later the tip of Courtois stood was enough to deflect the ball wide. These were at the time thought to be bonus chances. There was an inevitability about the game now. City were showing their Spanish counterparts how to close out a game and might even sneak another goal to rub salt into the wounds.
Little did we believe at that time with only a minute left in real time that City would regret these misses. On another night it would be celebrated how well Grealish and Foden, the young warriors of Manchester were coming of age. Toying with the Real Madrid defence. A Champions League final was almost cemented and within grasp.
Madrid worked the ball wide and with a deep cross to the back post it was Benzema that managed to side foot it across goal. Rodrygo was first to react and smartly flipped the ball to the side of the keeper and into the net. All of a sudden the impossible was possible. The stadium was on fire as were the players. City were caught within a dream that was about to turn into a nightmare.
With the very next attack Madrid were full of purpose. Moving the ball wide again proved fruitful. A cross from the wing with a tiny deflection somehow ended up on Rodrigo’s head again and was powerfully directed into the net. This match was turned on it’s head. City players were shell-shocked. Emotionally drained. Like rabbits staring musefully into headlights which were now the cauldron of the Santiago Bernabeu.
These situations do no occur regularly in football enough for any one team to be seasoned in dealing with them. The emotions of allowing yourself to believe you are literally moments from creating history to the despair of blowing a two goal lead in 90 seconds would test anyone to the limit.
Despite more words from both managers at the interval. It was Ancelotti who had the easier job of directing his troops towards the finishing line. Madrid must have felt they got out of jail by snatching defeat from the jaws of death. Guardiola though had the tougher, maybe impossible task of rallying his team back out onto the field. In either case, the men in white were destined to be successful.
We’ve seen it over the years. The team that comes back from the brink seems to attain super human strength like an armor of god. Manchester United once caught Munich cold back in 1999 and Liverpool felled Barcelona from three goals down. This was one of those occasions where the victim was powerless to resist the charge.
The hammer blow
It only took Madrid three minutes to deliver the final blow to the already broken City team. A cross from the right was taken by Benzema inside the box on the run. The hapless Ruben Diaz came across the forward and made contact. Benzema didn’t need a second to decide he was going over and the referee was happy to oblige. Benzema of course tucked the spot kick away but this time averted from the Panenka.
This is where Madrid would not become undone. Where City will look back at how they continued to attack the Madrid defence when in a winning position. Madrid do not play out games with such sportsmanship. Que the dark arts from Militao which surely added up to more than the paltry three minutes of extra time. This is the reality of winning and losing at times. Much as we dismay for seeing it.
Pep v Carlo
Once again Carlo Anchelotti has managed to overcome incredible odds to walk onto the next round of this competition. This is no fluke however as PSG/Chelsea and now City will attest. To gather the mental strength to keep plugging away against such odds once is impressive. To do it against three teams of such quality is almost ubsurd! I’m not going to pretend i would have thought he could get a team of this ilk to the final of the Champions League after leaving Everton. But that is the quality of his guidance.
For Pep this will again be the stick to beat him with. Unable to possess the trophy he covets so much. It has now been over 11 years since he held this trophy. To build such teams as he has shows that he borders on the brilliance but lacks the final nous to secure this title.
All the talk of not having a striker. A real number 9 is finally coming home to roost. The chances City have missed over the past two games could have seen them win comfortably by 4-5 goals if they were even half clinical. Would a Harry Kane have scored as many as Benzema over two legs? Pep is no doubt a brilliant coach but perhaps a little blindsided when it comes to how he relies on his strikers at the highest level. When the big games come, big game players put you into the final. Madrid have Benzema and City are toothless in comparison.