Manchester City will take a slender 4-3 lead into the second leg of their Champions League semi-final clash with Real Madrid after a classic was played out at the Etihad Stadium.
The reigning Premier League champions were in dreamland after taking a two-goal lead with just 11 minutes on the clock. It took City only 94 seconds to open the scoring, Kevin De Bruyne making a clever, untracked run from deep to meet Riyad Mahrez’s delicate cross and his diving header sneaked past Thibaut Courtois to send the home supporters into hysterics.
And yet it would get even better for the Citizens when Gabriel Jesus doubled their advantage, turning David Alaba smartly to slot home from Phil Foden’s left-flank cross.
Pep Guardiola was furious when Mahrez and Foden missed a golden chance apiece and his pain was compounded when Karim Benzema halved the deficit with an instinctive finish – his 40th goal of the season in all competitions.
The City manager was wondering how his side hadn’t scored a third minutes after the restart when Mahrez cushioned a shot against the post and Foden’s rebound was cleared on the line by Dani Carvahal.
But Foden would restore the hosts’ two-goal advantage with a header from six yards out after he was picked out by Fernandinho, a replacement for John Stones who limped off in the first half.
Fernandinho would go from hero to zero minutes later as he was left for dead by his compatriot Vinicius Junior on the halfway line and he kept his composure to beat Ederson with a low shot and drag Real Madrid back into the tie at 3-2.
The game continued to ebb and flow, and Bernardo Silva looked to put daylight between the sides, lashing a shot into the top corner, leaving Courtois rooted to the spot.
But there was to be a final twist in the game when the referee signalled for a penalty after the ball struck the hand of Aymeric Laporte. Coolness personified, Benzema made it 4-3 with a Panenka to leave the tie finely poised going into the second leg at the Bernabeu on Wednesday, May 4.
TALKING POINT – A GAME FOR THE AGES… AND THERE’S MORE TO COME!
So often Champions League semi-finals turn out to be classics and this game certainly ranks amongst the very best. For 90 minutes, both teams attacked relentlessly, Manchester City creating the better chances. And on reflection, the Citizens will be disappointed they weren’t able to put the tie to bed when leading 2-0. They were, of course, able to add to their tally after the restart but Guardiola will be questioning why his side weren’t able to manage the game better at crucial stages.
Real Madrid have such great mental strength and experience that they were able to hang in there, and Carlo Ancelotti’s side will be confident of overturning the deficit in front of their own supporters, particularly when Benzema is in this kind of form.
The teams will now turn their focus to league matters with both challenging for the top honours before they do battle again on Wednesday week. The second leg has a lot to live up to but with a place in the final in Paris at stake, more goals are more or less guaranteed.
MAN OF THE MATCH – KARIM BENZEMA (REAL MADRID)
There are a number of contenders but Benzema was the true difference-maker, dragging his side back into the match with his unbelievable finish. It changed the complexion of the game as Madrid grew in belief, the 34-year-old involved in everything positive the visitors had to offer. To put the icing on top, he kept Real Madrid’s hopes alive with that outrageous Panenka penalty. 41 goals this season and counting, 14 of them coming in the Champions League, making him this season’s top scorer in the competition.
Man City: Ederson 6, Stones 5, Dias 6, Laporte 5, Zinchenko 6, Rodri 6, De Bruyne 8, Bernardo 7, Mahrez 7, Jesus 6, Foden 8. Subs: Sterling N/A, Fernandinho 6.
Real Madrid: Courtois 5, Carvajal 6, Militao 5, Alaba 5, Mendy 5, Kroos 5, Modric 8, Valverde 6, Rodrygo 7, Vinicius Jr 8., Benzema 9. Subs: Nacho 5, Camavinga 6, Ceballos N/A, Asensio N/A
2′ – GOAL! MAN CITY 1-0 REAL MADRID (KEVIN DE BRUYNE): A sensational start from City! And who else but Kevin De Bruyne gets it?! The Belgium international makes an untracked, clsever run to meet Mahrez’s delicate cross and his diving header beats Courtois! One minute and 34 seconds on the clock.
11′ – GOAL! MAN CITY 2-0 REAL MADRID (GABRIEL JESUS): What is going on?! Gabriel Jesus can’t stop scoring and he doubles Man City’s advantage with 11 minutes on the clock! Again Real Madrid’s defending is questionable as Alaba makes a mess of his clearance and Jesus is perfectly positioned to turn and poke it home from point-blank range!
26′ – MAHREZ… NO! City’s top goalscorer has a chance to make it 3-0 as the hosts transition from defence to attack in a blink of an eye. Mahrez bursts into the box and has team mates in the middle but selfishly goes for goal and shoots into the side-netting from a tight angle.
28′ – SO CLOSE FOR FODEN! Real Madrid’s defence is carved open easily once again as De Bruyne switches a pass into the feet of Foden, whose first touch takes him slightly more wide than he would have liked and his shot is dragged agonisingly wide of the far post.
33′ – GOAL! MAN CITY 2-1 REAL MADRID (KARIM BENZEMA): Oh wow, Man City’s lead is halved by that man Benzema. And what a beautiful finish! The France international makes a run in front of his marker Zinchenko to meet Mendy’s cross and his deft finish from 10 yards nestles into the corner. On his 600th appearance for the club, Benzema now has 40 goals for the season in all competitions!
48′ – HOW HAVE CITY NOT SCORED A THIRD?! Mahrez touches it past Militao as he runs through clear on goal only to strike the post with his shot. The rebound falls to Foden whose first-time shot is cleared off the line by Carvajal!
53′ – GOAL! MAN CITY 3-1 REAL MADRID (PHIL FODEN): Man City’s two-goal advantage is restored! Real Madrid try to play out from the back, but Fernandinho is immediately on the case, pressing high and winning the ball. He plays a clever one-two, races to the by-line and picks out Foden with his cross and the 21-year-old can hardly miss with a header from six yards!
55′ – GOAL! MAN CITY 3-2 REAL MADRID (VINICIUS JNR): What a game this is turning out to be as Vinicius Jnr drags Real Madrid back into the tie! The Brazil international leaves his compatriot in his wake, spinning him on the halfway line, as he drives down the left flank, carving in and burying his shot into the bottom corner.
74′ – GOAL! MAN CITY 4-2 REAL MADRID (BERNARDO SILVA): What a huge moment this could be in the tie! Credit must go to the referee as he plays an advantage for a foul on
Zinchenko, Bernado takes control and lashes a shot into the top corner. Courtois is rooted to the spot!
82′ – GOAL! MAN CITY 4-3 REAL MADRID (KARIM BENZEMA, PEN): Ice in the veins, Benzema tucks the penalty away with a Panenka! Unbelievable!