Manchester City put in a valiant effort in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal and was able to escape with a 0-0 draw against Real Madrid at Etihad Stadium on Tuesday. An intense match with very few scoring chances favored the Citizens, who fought hard, defended well and are still alive with a chance of reaching the Final next week at Santiago Bernabéu.
The initial 45 minutes were boring and uneventful. There was plenty of intensity and physicality, with defenders from both teams making hard tackles and challenges against the opposing attackers, but the stars on the pitch did not create any chances.
Both defenses were compact and fast to close spaces, and City's group was especially great in transition defense, which was key to stop Madrid's fast attackers. There were no shots on target in the initial period, a perfect illustration of what we saw on the field: lot of fight, not too many ideas. The only major event in the half was David Silva, who left the game with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho.
And that was it. For City, it was a very good first half because they stopped Madrid. For football, it was bad.
The second half was pretty much as uninteresting as the earlier action, with both teams defending hard and not giving the other any space to create scoring opportunities. It wasn't until the last 20 minutes that Real Madrid took over, and even without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, Los Blancos finally came to life.
Jesé hit the crossbar, Luka Modric had a dangerous outside shot and Gareth Bale came just inches away from scoring the opener, three major chances for Madrid in a span of just three minutes. City looked shaky at the back and unable to bring any danger going forward, and Real looked set to get an away goal in any moment.
They got very close when Casemiro jumped over the City defense in a corner-kick, but his header found the saving foot of Joe Hart. Hart came to the rescue again a few minutes later, when the English keeper pulled off a miracle and stopped a shot from Pepe who was alone in front of him.
The pressure was gigantic, but the Citizens survived. In the end, a good result despite not scoring a goal at home, and there is a chance of qualifying at the Bernabéu next week. What a battle.
Man City: Hart; Sagna, Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy; Fernando, Fernandinho; Navas (Sterling), De Bruyne, Silva (Iheanacho); Agüero
Real Madrid: Navas; Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo; Casemiro, Modric, Kroos (Isco); Bale, Benzema (Jesé), Vázquez