Watch Pep Guardiola watch this Champions League The semi-final thriller, which featured a healthy first leg progress for his Manchester City side at various points, was to watch a coach in the grip of pain.
He was glowing when Riyad Mahrez hit the side netting with Phil Foden for a square pass in front of goal. That could have been 3-0 to City after 26 minutes.
Guardiola looked like he wanted to roll into a ball when Ruben Dias surrendered shortly thereafter and let Vinicius Jr pass through, although the Real striker couldn’t finish the ball. City’s defense was unusually loose.
And what about the moment 54 minutes later, shortly after Foden made it 3-1? Guardiola was expecting a throw-in for his team only to go the other way. He responded by chasing the fourth referee to get a yellow card. Vinicius will make it 3-2 almost immediately.
That’s what City’s pursuit of their first Champions League does to the man they want, and perhaps need, more than anyone else. Perhaps this is also what playing against the opponents Real Madrid does. Confronting them is like walking in a park with a lion at large. Good, so it’s very fun, and exciting. Then all of a sudden it’s not okay. When Gabriel Jesus made it 2-0 in the 11th minute, it looked too easy for City. They could have been leading 4-0 in the first half hour. However, the advantage was only 2-1 in the first half, after Karim Benzema emerged to show his lethal superiority.
City rushed again after Vinicius’ goal. When Oleksandr Zinchenko was fouled by Toni Kroos, it seemed like everyone paused – surely Eduardo Camavinga and Dani Carvajal. Bernardo Silva did not. With the referee, Istvan Kovacs, who played a clever advantage, the City midfielder had a shot into the near and top corner and Guardiola could lose himself in glee.
Real Madrid won’t last, as he got a break to rise again. Jumping for a high ball, Umaric Laporte nodded in his outstretched arm. Penalty. No one suspected that Benzema would turn out, but Panenka, sunken in the middle, was the perfect stealth, audacity and composure from another plane. Benzema is the tournament’s top scorer with 14, while he has 41 goals in 41 games for Real this season. Guardiola fell on the drinks cooler.
Real finished second in two long stretches of the round of 16 and the quarter-finals against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea. However, they found a way to succeed – partly thanks to Benzema’s goals, partly because of their history and who they are. Winners 13 times refuse to lose in this competition. They are still alive in this edition.
The last season had Dias extended at the far post for Real to meet with a cross pass, but he failed to extend enough. Guardiola fought another set of sprains. In the light of this moment, we could have forgotten that City had already beaten the Spain-elected champions, outsmarting them for the long haul. They should have scored more goals. It is never a good idea to allow this opponent to fight another day.
This was the third round of the European Cup semi-final for City while Real were ranked 31st. Just enjoy it, Guardiola told his players, and City did exactly that at the start, recovering blood after 93 seconds. Mahrez stormed into a big space, pulling away from Luka Modric before opting for the late run from Kevin De Bruyne, who threw himself into a header with Carvajal – and then Thibaut Courtois -.
Al Ittihad was a strangely quiet place, as the countdown to the start of the match began. Now I moved, and when the second goal came, there was joy, even disbelief. Foden descended far to the left, and when he found De Bruyne, the cross was flogged in the area. David Alaba tried to nibble in front of Jesus for the possession tablet, which he felt risky, and got it all wrong. When Jesus turned, the ball was still at his feet. The end was simple.
Real’s defenders were uncomfortable, especially on the ball when City put pressure. Visitors were there to take it and it felt as if City were about to inflict serious damage. Mahrez only had to pass to Foden to take the ball – a bad decision – while he dragged Foden off the far post after a fluent counterattack. Foden’s quick feet and velvet touch were an eye-catching feature.
But defensive tension was not exclusive to Real Madrid. City goalkeeper Ederson played two poor passes in the first half, calling for pressure, while Dias was caught more than once. Vinicius flashed, Alaba rose to flash with a wide header and then Benzema scored with a controlled shot from Ferland Mendy’s cross.
Guardiola had to replace injured John Stones, who took over at right-back in the absence of Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo, with Fernandinho. It was the 36-year-old who crossed Foden’s goal – moments after Eder Militao allowed Mahrez to pass by turning at the far post. Foden’s shot on the counter and Carvajal Dam.
But it was Fernandinho who was defeated and Vinicius beat him 3-2, and City’s defensive cover was nowhere to be seen. Laporte and Mahrez missed great chances on both sides of Silva’s goal, but Benzema had the last word.