There’s a decent looking bottle of vodka on the top shelf. It’s winking at you. “Come and get me,” it whispers. The 6ft 5 sted-head security officer – bearded, tattooed, all that scary shit – is nowhere in sight. Do you take it, or risk getting arrested?
I feel like City found themselves tangled in a pretty similar predicament on Tuesday night. Not in a supermarket, though. It was a Champions League semi-final.
Manuel Pellegrini’s résumé became much more attractive after those two perfectly executed legs against Paris Saint Germain in the previous round. It’s not often that he shows such tactical diversity, but more conservative, high pressing approach had toppled the Ligue 1 champions in impressive style. It worked excellently against Sevilla and Dynamo Kiev, too. Let the opposition have the ball, press your them into mistakes, and punish. But when ten-time European champions Real Madrid came to town, it was clear that we were torn between going for the jugular and protecting our own necks.
Accomplished displays from Bacary Sagna, Vincent Kompany, Nicolás Otamendi and Gaël Clichy at the back ensured the competition’s second highest scorers were unable to leave the Etihad Stadium with that precious away goal. Joe Hart was tremendous, too, making two vital stops to save efforts from point blank range. Barcelona’s Marc-André ter Stegen may have his eye on Harty’s number one jersey – the German, whose distribution is far superior to Joe’s, is reportedly being targeted by Guardiola – but very few keepers in world football have the ability to make themselves as big as the Englishman in one on one encounters.
Perhaps Cristiano Ronaldo, scorer of 16 Champions League goals this term, could have converted one of Madrid’s 13 attempts on goal. The Portuguese could not even make the bench for this one after picking up a thigh injury last week and there was a feeling before the game that this would be our best chance of beating the Spaniards. BT Sport had a change of heart and even labelled us as ‘favourites’ when Ronaldo’s absence was confirmed, but accoutred with the likes of Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema, Madrid are still one of the finest sides in Europe even without their main man. Pellegrini and the side knew that. Leave ourselves too open and we’d be slaughtered.