Man City and Real Madrid serve up a Champions League classic topped off with a couple of lightning stars

Man City and Real Madrid serve up a Champions League classic topped off with a couple of lightning stars

Manchester City-Real Madrid lived up to the hype with a pair of ludicrous goals in a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu that is never less than enthralling and sets up the second leg wonderfully.

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It came as no surprise, of course. Manchester City are currently the best football club in Europe and the Champions League has long been doing things – good things – to Real Madrid to make any concerns or shortcomings in their domestic work apparent.

Such is Real Madrid’s aura these evenings in the Champions League that it’s all too easy to convince yourself things are going according to plan even when they clearly aren’t. City gave the hosts absolute chase for the first 20 minutes here and if Real Madrid’s plan had always been to sit back and bid their time, surely they could never really plan for it to look like This. Certainly the vast majority within the stadium were unhappy with the seemingly passive approach the hosts were taking as City made their schemes around the Bernabeu.

Then Madrid scored. Obviously. This is what they do. It was a lovely, lovely goal. It started with the dexterity of Luka Modric 25 yards from his own goal and ended with the surprising violence of Vinicius Jr 25 yards from that of Manchester City. Between Modric’s press-busting film and Vinicius’ outrageous finale was Eduardo Camavinga’s panic-inducing galloping wave.

Suddenly a quiet City defense – John Stones had spent most of the first 20 minutes casually loitering in midfield – were backing down and in trouble, but they still had security in numbers and Camavinga had little options in the way of options.

What he got was Vinicius, who took the ride and unleashed something quite extraordinary. «Unstoppable» is an overused word in football, but you really wouldn’t want to test the physics of that. Despite the distance from the goal and the fact that he was nowhere near the corner, Ederson was never in danger of having his fingers pulled out of his hands.

It’s the sort of goal that in slow motion replays looks like it might have been a bad goalkeeper, but at full speed the sheer ferocity meant no fault could be pinned on the goalkeeper.

Vinicius Jr Real Madrid

Yet the most surprising thing about Vinicius’ goal was, in the end, that it was only the second sweetest goal of the night.

Kevin De Bruyne’s equalizer – richly deserved by City on the balance of the game in a pulsating clash whose follow-up in eight days’ time is already signed as an absolute must-watch – was even better, hit from a similar range and defying gravity as he hit the back of Thibaut Courtois’ net no more than two feet off the ground but somehow still on the rise.

Here, then, are two top-level goals from two top-level players in a top-level match. City’s seemingly nonchalant early dominance was obviously pitted by Vinicius’ counter-punch and the next 10 minutes were the only moments of the evening where things threatened to get away from them on a hot, sticky night. For a very short time, City looked shaken. It was a rare sight in recent matches, but by half-time they had regained the composure, if ever the absoluteness of their early control.

Real’s midfield began, slowly but surely, to gain a foothold in what was likely to be a key encounter in a contest full of them.

Kyle Walker has also nearly come out of his battle with Vinicius with honors, whose goal came from a central position not long after popping up briefly down the right in what must be considered a win for the City right-back.

Antonio Rudiger decisively won on points in a blunt encounter with Erling Haaland, a performance of consummate quality but also the necessary physicality required if there is any hope of causing a malfunction in Goalbot 2000. Rudiger’s performance here was reminiscent Cristian Romero’s equally effective strike against Haaland as Spurs beat City 1-0 what seems like a lifetime ago but was actually somehow, in this ridiculous time-bending season, just three months ago.

Rudiger did even better than Romero, though, because he didn’t even need to be sent off to make his point. Stopping Haaland’s goal is one thing – and a very, very difficult thing – but excluding him almost entirely from the game is another. Even with his return to goal he was able to offer little here; how the second round of that particular battle plays out next week at the Etihad already seems pivotal.

Pep Guardiola, whose reputation for splurging after spending too much time thinking things over on such occasions is legendary, went the other way entirely here. After appointing an entirely predictable starting XI, he then unpredictably left those 11 players on the pitch for the whole hot, sticky and tiring night. It was a choice justified by the final result, but certainly there were moments in the second half when a change seemed prudent. Both Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva were anything close to liabilities in possession at the end of a match in which City dominated the ball.

It will certainly be interesting to see how many of these XIs start against Everton at the weekend, but after a game like this it seems strangely trivial to even care about a game where the only things at stake are trifles like Premier League titles. and demotion.

We’re already counting down the minutes until next Wednesday.

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