Manchester City vs Real Madrid in the Champions League gave football fans everywhere a spectacle to behold. It was a game that was expected to thrill and it lived up to the billing.
Both sides went full throttle at each other caring little about defending. The emphasis was on scoring goals as in the end, that’s what will count.
City came out of the gates with all guns blazing, scoring in the first 90 seconds of the encounter. When Gabriel Jesus made it 2-0 in the 11th minute, it seemed the Spanish giants were in for a rough night. That was until Kareem Benzema reminded the City faithful that the 13-time champions are in town. A skillfully executed volley from Ferland Mendy’s cross dragged The Meringues right back into the game.
Phil Foden’s fine finish from a wonderful Fernandinho cross that restored City’s two-goal advantage, was quickly followed by Vinicius Junior’s amazing solo effort. But by the time the dust had settled at the Etihad Stadium, City ran away with a 4-3 victory.
It was a bittersweet victory in the end, knowing that the team could have easily finished up the tie in the first half, if not for the plethora of missed chances. However, a win is still much more preferable to a draw, or worse still a loss.
Although the Sky Blues have a one-goal advantage, going into the second leg expecting to defend that scoreline could be disastrous. It will be a big mistake for Man City to go to the Santiago Bernabeu hoping to sit back and defend their one-goal lead.
The players will do well to heed Pep Guardiola’s advice in the press conference before the first game.
“Now we try to be ourselves and compete well. We’ll need two exceptional games to reach the final and hopefully we can do it,” Guardiola had stated.
City must go to the Spanish capital to play their football the way they know how to do it and win the game. However, against a good and experienced side like Real Madrid, that's easier said than done.
But the Sky Blues have proven before that they are equal to the task. They go into the game on the back of a winning run against the soon-to-be-crowned Spanish champions. Having beaten the team 2-1 home and away in the round of 16 of the competition back in 2020, both teams meet again with a place in the final at stake this time around.
Benzema has been a man on fire this season. The Frenchman is leading the team’s charge towards both La Liga title and the Champions League. In the later competition, he single-handedly booted out both Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea. His second half hat-trick in the second leg when Madrid looked down and out after trailing 2-0 thanks to Kylian Mbappe’s strikes stunned the football world.
The 34-year-old put up an equally impressive performance scoring another hat-trick at Stamford Bridge, and four goals in total over two legs to edge out defending champions Chelsea. He continued the fine run against City at the Etihad Stadium with a brace.
His performances have led to many tipping him as a strong candidate for the 2022 Ballon d’Or award. Such is how good he has been that City will need to stop him, and indeed the whole Madrid team in order to book a place in another final.
But stopping him will not be a matter of sitting back and defending the lead from the first leg. Unlike the Atletico Madrid game where City had to dig deep and defend in numbers to see out the fixture at 1-0, neighbours Real are a different beast.
Carlo Ancelotti’s free-scoring side will find a way through the defence. So City must go for goals in the understanding that the second leg may follow the same pattern with the first.
And, just as was the case with PSG and Chelsea, the team that goes through will most likely be the one that outscores the other. City must therefore, go all out for goals and strive for yet another victory.