MAN CITY 4, REAL MADRID 3
“Does it have to end?,” declared pundit Alan Shearer after witnessing the first leg of a pulsating Champions League semi-final as Manchester City established a slender advantage for next week’s return at Real Madrid.
Those five words reflected an unforgettable night at the Etihad as City, chasing their first victory in the competition, produced a brilliant attacking display against the Spanish giants.
But gritty Real showed why they are 13-times winners of the competition as they refused to concede defeat when, at times, they looked like being swept away.
City went 2-0 ahead inside 11 minutes through goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus before Karim Benzema, making his 600th appearance for Real, halved the deficit to make it 2-1 at the break.
Phil Foden made it 3-1 early in the second half before Vinicious Junior scored a breathtaking second for Real.
Bernardo Silva restored a two-goal advantage before Benzema struck again with a Panenka penalty eight minutes from the end.
Shearer summed up the game perfectly in a handful of sentences, declaring: “Both managers can be incredibly proud of their players and their efforts. Not so good defending but some of the attacking play was absolutely phenomenal.
“It was a joy to be here. It was a joy to watch. It was absolutely relentless from the first minute.
“They have given us some exceptional football this evening. Both teams were really open but when you look at it from a neutral point of view, the goals, the atmosphere, it’s just been an unbelievable night.”Embed from Getty Images
City manager Pep Guardiola said: “It was a fantastic game for both sides.
“I am so proud of the way the team performed in front of the world which was exceptional.
“We did many good things. Unfortunately, we conceded goals and we could not score more from the chances we created.
“We went out of the Champions League to Tottenham when Llorente scored with the hand. Today it is a hand for Laporte. It happens. All we can do is perform as we perform. The quality of Real Madrid is such they can punish you.
“What we have done with the ball and without the ball, creating chances and chances and chances I can’t ask anything else.
“I say to the players to rest. Leeds now is the most important thing, and we go to Madrid to win. Both teams want to attack and have the quality to play. Football is a fantastic spectacle.
“Congratulations to Carlo and his team as they are so good. At the same time, we saw ourselves that we can be there.”
Foden added: “For the fans watching it was obviously a great game of football. We are playing a side that have won the Champions League many times and, if we give the ball away, they are going to punish us. It is something we need to work on in the second leg. The tie is still on.
“It was a great game. End to end. We started really well and could have killed them off. In these games, we need to take more chances.”
Bernardo added: “I honestly think for the first 20 minutes we were so, so good. The way we pressed, the way we controlled the game and created chances.
“Over the 90 minutes, it felt like we could have won by a better score. Unfortunately, we were not able to take advantage of our two-goal differences that we had three times.
“It is the Champions League. We played one of the best teams in the world. It is still a good result and on to the next game.
“It was a good game. Our fans should be proud of us and the work we did. We could have scored more but this football. They took their chances.
“The penalty came out of nowhere. We were controlling the game. We were a bit unlucky.”
Real manager Carlo Ancelotti said: “Manchester City has an advantage, but not a big advantage.
“Hopefully our support can help us go to the final.”
City made four changes from the 11 that began the 5-1 win over Watford on Saturday.
There were starts for John Stones, Bernardo, Riyad Mahrez and Foden, with Fernandinho, Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling dropping down to the bench.
Jesus, who scored four and made one against Watford, kept his place.
Neither the suspended Joao Cancelo nor injured Kyle Walker were in the squad.
Real, 15 points clear at the top of La Liga and only needing a point to become champions, had the luxury of resting some players for their 3-1 win at Osasuna six days ago.
Among those returning were Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Vinicius Junior, while Gareth Bale was among the options on the bench.
City could not have dreamed of a better start as they took the lead after one minute and 33 seconds.
Mahrez cut in from the right and floated a delightful cross for De Bruyne to glance a header low past goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for his 15th goal of the season.
And it soon got even better for City who doubled their advantage in the 11th minute.
This time, De Bruyne provided the assist with a cross from the left as Jesus turned centre back David Alaba before firing low past Courtois for his 12th goal of the campaign.
Real were unable to cope with City’s pressing game as they had further chances to increase their lead as Mahrez lashed an effort into the side netting while Foden and Oleksandr Zinchenko both fired narrowly wide.
The Spaniard gradually began to create chances as they forced Ruben Dias into an error as he struck his own upright only for a flag to be raised for offside to spare his blushes.
Alaba glanced a header not far wide before Real halved the deficit in the 33rd minute.
Ferland Mendy crossed from the left and Benzema got in front of Zinchenko to shoot low past Ederson for his goal 13th in the Champions League.
The momentum swung Real’s way as Rodrygo’s angled effort was beaten out by Ederson.
And City were forced into a first-half changes as Stones, an injury doubt before the game, was replaced by Fernandinho who slotted into the right back spot.
City ought to have restored their two-goal advantage straight from the kick off.
Mahrez burst clear through and fired past Courtois only to strike the upright. Foden, following up, saw his effort goalbound effort blocked by Dani Carvajal.
City soon had a third goal as Fernandinho’s cross from the right was headed home at the far post from six yards by Foden for his 13th goal of the season.
If City thought they were home and dry, they were mistaken as Real made it 3-2 in the 55th minute.
Vinicius Junior turned Fernandinho inside his own half and sprinted half the length of the field, cut inside and shot low across Ederson from six yards into the far corner for an 18th goal of the season for the brilliant Brazilian.
City went 4-2 ahead with 16 minutes left with Romanian referee Istvan Kovacs playing an instrumental part in the goal.
When Zinchenko was upended just outside the box, Kovacs allowed play to continue. Bernardo picked the loose ball and lashed a swerving shot into the top corner for his 13th goal of the season.
Real hit back yet again when they won an 80th minute penalty for handball against Aymeric Laporte. The ball came off his head on to his flaying right arm.
Benzema scored from the spot, a cheeky Panenka chip down the middle of the goal, showing ice-cool nerves after missing two spot kicks at the weekend. This was his 41st goal of the season from 41 appearances.
City made their first change when Sterling replaced Jesus with seven minutes left.
They continued to carve out chances with several ball across the face of the Real goal with players sliding in but unable to make contact as it remains to be seen whether a one-goal advantage will be enough for the return as City recorded a third successive win against Real having eliminated them in the knockout phase in 2019-20.
The omens are good for City as this was the sixth time Real have lost the first leg of a Champions League semi-final and on the five previous occasions they have failed to overturn the deficit and reach the final.