Hits and misses Man City pass Bernabeu test even as Antonio Rudiger helps Vinicius Junior outshine Erling Haaland
Manchester City emerged from the Bernabeu with a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final; Vinicius Junior starred and Antonio Rudiger kept Erling Haaland quiet but this was still a success for Pep Guardiola’s side
The Athletic’s David Ornstein and The Daily Mail’s Riath Al-Samarrai reflect on Kevin De Bruyne’s brilliant performance at the Bernabeu
It was a curious night because – as Pep Guardiola pointed out afterwards – Real Madrid scored when Manchester City appeared in control and City then equalised just when the game seemed in danger of slipping away from them. He will take it.
Although Carlo Ancelotti also claimed to be satisfied with the score – and will back Vinicius Junior and the rest to cause problems on the counter-attack – this was the more daunting half of City’s assignment in this tie. It came with bad memories too.
This was the scene of that improbable collapse one year ago, when City succumbed to the sheer force of will of Madrid on a mission. After suffering something like that, the last thing they needed was even a hint that their opponents had the greater knowhow.
When Vinicius’ shot struck the back of the net, it will have challenged the resolve of Guardiola’s players. Much is made of the manager’s long wait to lift this trophy again, but not one of the players on that pitch for his side has yet won this Champions League.
If there are doubts, that is when they emerge. When Madrid have seemed comfortable surrendering possession, soaked up your best shots and punished you on the break. There was a trademark swagger about them after that. It was a test of nerve for City.
They came through it courtesy of Kevin De Bruyne. With Erling Haaland receiving close attention, someone else had to step up. It was fitting that it was him. “He helped us in the moment we most needed it,” said Rodri. How important that could be.
Fourteen times in 14 attempts at the Etihad Stadium in 2023, City have won the game. Do that in the second leg next week and they will be into the Champions League final. On an awkward evening in Madrid, that marks some result for Guardiola and his players.
Antonio Rudiger and Erling Haaland had a great battle in the Santiago Bernabeu
Within 90 seconds, Antonio Rudiger was already in the face of Haaland following an aggressive piece of defending that led to a foul being awarded. He ran back in position goading the striker. It’s easy to forget that Haaland is still learning the game at 22 years old and Rudiger clearly wanted to test his composure in the heat of a Champions League semi-final. There aren’t many defenders in world football who possess the confidence, authority and experience to go and have a battle one-vs-one with the Manchester City striker – but Rudiger is that player. He was in his ear, pulling his shirt and just generally being a bit of a nuisance.
Of course, it’s impossible to completely nullify him as he managed to get three shots away over the 90 minutes but the attempts only equated to an expected goals figure of 0.3, highlighting how Rudiger kept the chances falling his way to low-probability ones. Rudiger showed stopping a record-breaking phenomenon can be done.
Vinicius Junior offered another reminder of his excellence against Manchester City
While Haaland was restricted, it was Vinicius who had his moment – and what a treat it is to watch this player shine. Ancelotti calls him the game’s most decisive player and it is hard to argue when the man scored the winner in last season’s Champions League final.
Here he was again, smashing the ball into the net to turn the tie in his team’s favour. The Brazilian is skilful but it is the speed at which he is able to execute those skills that sets him apart.
Kyle Walker was at his limit in trying to contain him, which only made you wonder how someone who was not lightning quick themselves would have looked. City are well placed to progress. But there can be no complacency with Vinicius on the team-sheet.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola described his players’ performance in the 1-1 draw with Real Madrid as ‘exceptional’
Real Madrid’s next game is at home to Getafe in LaLiga on Saturday – kick-off 8pm.
The European champions then travel to the Etihad to take on Man City in their Champions League semi-final second leg on May 17 – kick-off 8pm.
Ahead of their rematch with Real, City go to Goodison Park to take on Everton in the Premier League on Sunday, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 2pm.
May 14: Everton (A) – Premier League, kick-off 2pm, live on Sky Sports
May 17: Real Madrid (H) – Champions League, kick-off 8pm
May 21: Chelsea (H) – Premier League, kick-off 4pm
May 24: Brighton (A) – Premier League, kick-off 8pm, live on Sky Sports
May 28: Brentford (A) – Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm
June 3: Manchester United (N) – FA Cup final, kick-off 3pm