In what was an absolutely astonishing 90 minutes of attacking soccer, Manchester City beat Real Madrid in their Champions League semifinal first leg at the Etihad on Tuesday, 4-3. A wild match with what felt like countless chances, the three first-half goals were surpassed by four in the second half, with Los Blancos staying within striking distance ahead of next week’s second leg in Madrid despite perhaps not deserving to.
City were clearly the better team with the better chances, and anybody who witness that spectacle of soccer has to feel surprised to see Real even with life entering the second leg. City won the xG battle, 2.37-1.48, but while the hosts were dominant with five more shots and nearly 20% more possession, it was the chances they missed that will be remembered. With a bit better finishing or a true striker (the heavily rumored coming signing of Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland, for example), they really could have put five or six past the Spanish side.
Going up 2-0 just 11 minutes in through Kevin de Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus, it was Karim Benzema who pulled Real within one at 2-1 before Vinicius Jr. did to make it 3-2. Then Benzema did it again, pulling Real back within one late on with the final goal of the game via a penalty kick.
Four different players scored for City, with Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva joining the first two, but Pep Guardiola won’t be overly thrilled with the result. Yes, a win is a win, but City were well on their way to a multi-goal victory multiple times in this match, with Real clawing back and leaving all to be decided at the Santiago Bernabeu.
With the draw Manchester City will feel …
Frustrated. It almost feels like they drew, just because the one-goal advantage isn’t what they feel like they deserved. They made the Real Madrid’s defense look silly at times, and a flurry of back-post crosses late on looked sure to result in the fifth, but nothing came of them. They will remain the favorite in this tie, but what was set to be a comfortable night’s sleep will now be one of twisting and turning, wondering what could have been.
With the draw Real Madrid will feel …
Absolutely elated. They know they had no business keeping this close, but their big boys stepped up with Benzema and Vinicius Jr. each producing stellar goals. Now, the defense must improve, because if not, they’ll be done. But they ended the 90 minutes with life in a match where they looked lifeless 11 minutes in.
Game-changing moment: Vinicius Jr.’s golazo
City were leading Real 3-1 in the 53rd minute when Phil Foden got his deserved goal, and it looked like the flood gates were about to open. But then, with Fernandinho marking him, Vinicius Jr. pulled off one of the solo goals of the season. A dummy nutmeg saw him through on goal at the halfway line, finishing superbly from a tight angle. Take a look:
That goal kept Real in it, gave them a bit more of belief in momentum and prevented a 4-1 score which could have been the death blow.
Man of the match: Kevin de Bruyne
From our James Benge:
Another showpiece tie has been bent to De Bruyne’s will. From his perfectly timed dart to flick in Riyad Mahrez’s cross, he was at his very best, showcasing the full repertoire of inch-perfect passes, dynamic runs and strength in duels.
And Benge is right. He was out of this world and far and away the best player on the pitch, but he knows some of those balls he delivered in should have been tucked away. Can he repeat this performance in the second leg?
Most selfish moment of the game: Riyad Mahrez’ miss
With City in full control at 2-0, and with one goal likely putting Real away comfortably, Riyad Mahrez was sent through down the right. He had Phil Foden open on the left side of the goal, but he decided to do this …
It’s impossible not to wonder if that miss will.
Top display of skill: Foden’s tasty touch
You don’t need words to describe beauty. Just take a glance at Foden settling a ball like he has a magnet in his boot.
Or was it?
Apologies in advance to our Micah Richards, who was caught on camera during the match with an incredible bit of skill. Eating a pasta dish while watching the game, here is how he reacted to de Bruyne’s opener.
Incredible timing to keep that piece of penne pasta in his mouth, and you could argue it was more impressive than Foden. See, that loan move to Fiorentina was worth something!