Match Coverage

City 0-0 Real Madrid: match report

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.

In fact, Ronaldo’s absence switched the spotlight onto Madrid’s back line which has been criticised so often over the last few years. Pepe and Sergio Ramos showed their talent, bullying Sergio Agüero out of the tie with typically combative performances. Kevin De Bruyne was also marked tightly and struggled assert any influence. It’s possible that with Ronaldo in the side, Madrid would have been a little more open and more susceptible to the counter attack. Even so, this did feel like an opportunity missed for us.

Not that I’m unhappy. A 0-0 draw against Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the Champions League is an excellent result, especially considering we created very little. Agüero’s delicious through ball was miscontrolled by Sterling in the dying minutes (a better touch could have seen him through on goal) and De Bruyne’s free-kick in final seconds of the game forced a decent enough stop from Keylor Navas. Other than that, everything was a little nervous and clumsy.

Fernando and Fernandinho showed the tenacity they’ve showed throughout the campaign in the first half, harassing Modrić and Kroos like playful dogs, but they tired in the second allowing the Croat-German duo to dictate the play. David Silva’s 40th minute injury was another pivotal factor in Madrid’s dominance in the second half. He was impressive and helped the ball stick to our attack until he hobbled off with a thigh injury. Pellegrini revealed after the game that he does not expect the Spaniard to be fit for the second leg and that could be a big blow to our chances of reaching the final.

His replacement, Kelechi Iheanacho, could unfortunately not replicate the artistry he produced against Stoke at the weekend. This was an unforgettable experience for the lad and the substitution paid testament to how superb he has been this campaign, but the experienced heads of Ramos and Pepe had little trouble dealing with the 19-year-old.

Madrid grew in confidence mid-way into the second period, detecting the tension in the air. Jese’s header which struck the crossbar fired a warning to our boys and two monumental saves from Hart to deny Casemiro and then Pepe kept us in the tie. Come May 4th, we could be looking back on just how important those two stops were.

By no means is a Real Madrid victory at the Bernabéu in eight days time a formality, despite their flawless record in Madrid in this year’s competition. We’ve proven ourselves to be a more dangerous and more organised outfit on the road and with only one objective in mind on that trip, we have reason to be confident. Not conceding in this one was massive and you can be sure that Madrid will leave more gaps at their stadium than they did at ours tonight. We’re now one game away from a Champions League final and I, for one, am pretty optimistic.

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