MANCHESTER: After one of the biggest Champions League semi-final clashes, Manchester City will take a 4-3 lead in the second leg against Real Madrid after an extraordinary encounter at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.
A breathtaking and relentlessly fast game, filled with chances, moments of individual brilliance and a handful of defensive shortcomings, was a treat for the spectators but left City, who had the best of the game, with the thinner of the tracks to defend at the Santiago Bernabeu next Wednesday.
“It was a fantastic game for both teams. We did a lot of good things. Unfortunately, we conceded and couldn’t score more. But it’s two games and we have another one. in a week,” said City manager Pep Guardiola.
Liverpool and Villarreal will certainly struggle to match the quality of this game when they meet in the other semi-final at Anfield on Wednesday.
City took the lead after 94 seconds, the fastest goal scored in a Champions League semi-final, with Kevin De Bruyne’s superb diving header after Riyad Mahrez made a piercing run at the Real defence, swung inside and then delivered a deadly cross.
Guardiola’s side doubled their lead in the 11th minute through in-form Gabriel Jesus, who scored four Premier League goals at the weekend, collecting a pass from De Bruyne and heading away from David Alaba before breaking through at home.
It was the first time 13-time European champions Real had conceded two goals so quickly in the Champions League and another was looking on the cards.
Reigning Premier League champions City were on fire, running Spanish league leaders Real to shreds, but Mahrez and Phil Foden were both unable to convert promising chances.
It was a spell of the game that City can still regard as a missed opportunity and, as so often, Real found a way to recover in a contest that risked running away from them.
The goal came from a familiar source, with Champions League escape artist Karim Benzema scoring a goal from nothing as he guided a Ferland Mendy cross into the far corner with the trickiest steers after 33 minutes.
Guardiola could be forgiven for wondering how his side’s high-energy, high-quality football only produced a 2-1 lead at the break, but there was a similar pattern in the second half.
City restored a two-goal advantage eight minutes after the restart with veteran Fernandinho replacing the injured John Stones, picking out Foden with a perfectly weighted cross that the England international waved home.
Two minutes later, Fernandinho was caught off guard as he allowed fellow Brazilian Vinicius Jr past him on the touchline.
The winger sprinted from the halfway line deep into the area before pushing the ball past Ederson to make it 3-2 with exceptional individual effort.
Again City found a way through. Real’s defense hesitated after Oleksandr Zinchenko fell on the edge of the box but Bernardo Silva leapt up and beat Thibaut Courtois with a superb strike into the top corner in the 74th minute.
There was more drama to come as City’s Aymeric Laporte was penalized when the ball hit his arm in the box, after glancing over his head, and Benzema converted the penalty with a cheeky chip “Panenka” in the middle eight minutes from the end.
City were still looking for more but substitutes Raheem Sterling and Ruben Dias were both unable to make contact with a dangerous ball across the box and then Dias slid in again and was only inches away. a deep center of Mahrez.
The score was expected to remain 4-3, but for those wishing this game went on, there are still 90 minutes to go next week.
City, who have yet to be crowned European champions, were left with the strange feeling of disappointment at having beaten ‘only’ Real by one goal.
Real’s Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti had similar mixed feelings to Guardiola after an entertaining evening and left with some regrets, but there was a hint of optimism in his analysis.
“As a football fan, it was a fantastic game of football. As Madrid manager, I have to take into consideration that we… conceded two goals early on. But we conceded three at the Bernabeu We now hope to go to the final.”