It was a Champions League semi-final to rival any that have come before it. Manchester City beat Real Madrid 4-3 on the night, but the score could have been anything as two of the finest sides in the world went toe-to-toe, with no inhibitions.
Kevin De Bruyne was majestic, Karim Benzema was clinical and Vinicius Jr was electric on a night where all of the big stars came out to play. Man City raced into a 2-0 lead and could have been further ahead within half an hour, but they couldn’t kill off an experienced side that just don’t know how to roll over.
If Atletico Madrid attempted to wrestle City into submission in the last round, Real Madrid responded to their own early pummelling by coming out swinging, and they landed devastating blows of their own. Ballon d’Or favourite Karim Benzema added two to his Champions League tally, the second of which a sumptuous Panenka penalty, while Vinicius showed his pace to get on the scoresheet.
City over the 90 minutes had chances to score 10, but ended up with four. Carlo Ancelotti’s side come away from Manchester with their hopes intact, and they will fancy their chances with a home leg to come. If they are a beast in the Champions League, City had to cut their head off when they had the chance. Instead, they let them come back with vigour. There were more chances than you could count, but City looked like they were running away with it in the early moments.
Within two minutes, the hosts were ahead. De Bruyne showed his goalscoring prowess as he sent a diving header beyond Thibaut Courtois in the Real Madrid goal. Riyad Mahrez’s driving run from the right and inch-perfect cross gave De Bruyne an opportunity they couldn’t refuse. The quickest goals in Champions League semi-final history showed Pep’s intent.
City had stunned Real Madrid, who had a side stacked with experience, but couldn’t deal with City’s dominance. In fact, they could barely keep the ball. Within 10 minutes, De Bruyne had played his role in the second. His ball into the box wasn’t cleared and Gabriel Jesus, playing as a number nine, finished from six yards out.
It should have been three as Bernardo Silva sent Mahrez away down the right, but instead of squaring for Phil Foden to score, he blasted the ball right-footed into the side-netting. That decision left Guardiola enraged on the touchline, as he felt Madrid were there for the taking in the early stages.
The English star would have a chance to make it three moments later as De Bruyne found him with an inch-perfect pass, but his first touch let him down as he pulled the shot wide. David Alaba's header from Karim Benzema’s cross was the first sign that Real Madrid were still in this tie.
This was the moment for Guardiola. Man CIty needed to cut the head of this Madrid side - they didn’t and were made to pay the price. Benzema was a man on a mission and Ferland Mendy whipped the ball into him to brilliantly finish with a left-footed volley. The Frenchman has been on fire this season and has now taken his tally to 14 in 10 matches in Europe this tem, as this goal changed the entire feeling around this tie.
In the second half, City should have once again restored their two goal lead. Mahrez nicked the ball past his marker and hit the post when one on one, and the ball came back out to Foden who saw his first-time effort blocked on the line by Dani Carvajal.
However, seven minutes after the break, they would finally get their third. Fernandinho, on off the bench for John Stones at right-back, powered down the right-wing and played in a wonderful cross, for the academy graduate to head home.
However, Fernandinho turned from hero to villain in a matter of seconds. He was beaten by Vinicius Jr on the left-wing and then simply couldn’t catch him as he charged into the box to finish past Ederson. His pace was blistering, and Real Madrid would not lie down.
When the game opened up and Madrid could go blow for blow, they harmed City. In the second leg, Guardiola will have to be aware of this obvious danger, as his side were more dominant when the game was played at a slower, more controlled tempo.
If there’s one rule you are taught as a youngster, it is play to the whistle. That’s something Real Madrid didn't adhere to as Zinchenko was wiped out and they stopped, as Bernardo Silva fired the ball past a static Courtois.
Mahrez was so close to making it five after an individual run but Laporte then handed the visitors a lifeline, after handling in the box. Benzema stood up to take the penalty and Panenka’d Ederson to drag Madrid right back in it. It was a bullish piece of skill that silenced the Etihad.
Dias came within an inch of finding the net on two occasions but the game that nobody wanted to end, finished 4-3. This was not the perfect night for City, and it could have been. The Real Madrid beast is more than alive in this tie having been on the verge of collapse and you simply cannot rule them out after this performance.
Bring on the second leg.