Champions League Tie Still All to Play For

Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola faced each other in a thrilling game from start to finish on Tuesday. Manchester City defeated Real Madrid 4-3 at the Etihad as the two sides prepare for it second leg their Champions League semi-final match at the Santiago Bernabeu.

City will go into the second leg next Wednesday with a one-goal advantage as Guardiola looks to add a Champions League title to his Etihad Cup. The first leg was a footballing showcase as two of the best teams and best coaches in world football went head to head in an epic 90 minutes. The game was full of drama from the start as City raced to a two-goal lead inside after just 11 minutes. Question marks over Real’s defense were raised when they desperately missed Casemiro at the base of midfield.

City overwhelms Real

Ancelotti has often tried to sit low this season and absorb the pressure against the top teams in the Champions League. Right from the start of the campaign, they sat low and tried to hit the counter. Think back to the 1-0 away win against Inter in the group stage in September. In both games against PSG and Chelsea in the round of 16 and quarter-finals respectively, Ancelotti’s side never had better possession, instead trying to capitalize on Vinicius Jr’s pace on counterattacks.

A similar story played out on Tuesday night when Real only had 40% possession throughout the game but were still able to smash three past Ederson. Of course, Real’s clinical quality in attack allows such a line-up – Karim Benzema has been on fire this season, scoring 25 goals in La Liga and 14 out of 10 in the Champions League.

From the start, Real sat low as they tried to contain City’s attacking excellence. If anything, that welcomed more pressure and the Citizens quickly rocketed to a two-goal lead. Casemiro’s absence was sorely missed as Toni Kroos struggled in the No.2. 6th position in front of defense – David Alaba also had a torrid night before getting hooked at half-time.

Ancelotti instructed his players to play more aggressively, especially in Casemiro’s absence. However, this often resulted in his defense being thrown out of position. Pep’s traditional use of pushing his wingers high and wide caused all sorts of problems as they tried to hit balls deep behind Real Madrid’s defence. This led to City’s second goal, which forced Eder Militao to close down Phil Foden on the left, leaving his position at the center of defence. Alaba’s bad night continued as Gabriel Jesus was able to defeat him before passing Thibaut Courtois.

Real hit back

It could have been different for Ancelotti if City could have capitalized on a chance from Riyad Mahrez. The hosts ripped through Real’s defense again when Mahrez picked up the ball on the right. He couldn’t spot Foden in the penalty area and instead fired into the side netting. Guardiola was furious on the touchline. The game could have been put to bed on the spot.

Instead, City became careless and sloppy in possession as the intensity waned. Benzema and Vinicius have press to give credit for, but Ederson often thought about the ball. With Kyle Walker absent at right-back, Real tried to double down on the left. Ferland Mendy picked up the ball on the left before finding Benzema with a fantastic cross. The striker unfairly delivered a sweet finish.

Vinicius played a key role in Madrid’s comeback as his counterattack speed caused problems. Fernandinho came on at right-back as John Stones had to be substituted through injury. Initially, the aggressiveness and anticipation worked well for City as he intercepted the ball in front of Vinicius before assisting Foden in City’s third goal. However, it was also a source of trouble. Vinicius later prevailed against Fernandinho and a brilliant skill coupled with his elite speed allowed the Brazilian to come from behind and score at 3-2.

Individual brilliance, especially on the part of elite players, can sometimes undo tactics. This was also the case with Bernardo Silva’s dream goal to make it 4:2. A bold Benzema Panenka from the penalty spot with less than ten minutes to go summed up an exciting evening of football from start to finish.

Ancelotti before the second leg

Ancelotti’s Real resilience is plain to see – they overturned a two-goal deficit to knock PSG out of the Champions League in the round of 16. Real also saw a 3-1 lead in the first leg against Chelsea quickly turn into a deficit as they went 3-0 in the second leg to make it 4-3. However, Luka Modric and Benzema were on hand to take the reins and Real won the tie.

“At the moment it’s very important not to lose your head, that’s a characteristic of this team. We’ve seen it many times. The shoulders never fall off. heads stay cold explained coach Ancelotti after the city game.

Real are down on goals ahead of the second leg against City and his side will bounce back next Wednesday. The return of Casemiro in midfield will be a big boost to bring some stability in front of defence. Despite the wealth of experience in Ancelotti’s side, there are still a number of players who lack experience at the highest level. Militao, Mendy, Federico Valverde, Rodrygo and Vinicius have all made fewer Champions League appearances than 21-year-old Foden. Perhaps one more comeback might be too much.

City are certainly no stranger to succumbing to Champions League pressures, but have previously been eliminated by Monaco, Liverpool, Tottenham and Lyon. Pep may look for a little more defensive stability when heading to the Bernabeu next Wednesday.

We have a dramatic finale ahead of us to see who can reach the final. Fellow Englishmen Liverpool take a 2-0 lead ahead of the second leg against Villarreal. In the words of Pep: “Football happens sometimes, you know.”

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