Manchester City fight back to beat Real Madrid at the Bernabeu
De Bruyne scores late penalty winner as City triumph at home of Spanish giants
It was a courageous, yet curious decision by Pep Guardiola to keep Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, David Silva and Fernandinho on the bench against Real Madrid away in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie.
But the Catalan, who was booed when his name was announced to the Madrid crowd, has long had the courage of his convictions.
When Gabriel Jesus headed a 78th-minute equaliser from a sublime Kevin de Bruyne cross after Isco had put Madrid up on the hour, City’s efforts were vindicated and deserved. England’s champions had a key away goal.
But when de Bruyne placed an 82nd-minute penalty past Thibaut Courtois to give City the lead, it became one of their greatest ever victories.
Sergio Ramos was sent off for the 26th time in his career and a worried hush descended on football’s grandest stadium, and City’s prospects looked brighter still.
They are favourites to win their first European Cup, a competition from which they will be sidelined for two years if a ban is upheld for breaking UEFA’s financial fair play rules.
Madrid’s line-up surprised, too. Gareth Bale, the scorer of key goals in the biggest games, was left on the bench for a match played at a frenetic pace.
Madrid had more possession, rare for any team against a Guardiola side, in a fast and cagey first half, but City had better chances through Jesus.
A 29th-minute Karim Benzema header was the closest, but while the Frenchman was Madrid’s best player last year after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, he’d only scored twice in the previous games.
Guardiola’s plan was a 4-4-2 with Bernardo Silva and de Bruyne up front, while Jesus and Mahrez were wide of them.
Playing without obvious forwards had worked well at Old Trafford last month, but while it did not click in the Bernabeu, City defended well and prevented Madrid scoring as both teams cancelled each other out.
Madrid’s biggest games this season have all had low scorelines, and they paid their opponents great respect.
The competition is crucial to both, although the 3,400 travelling City fans in the 80,000 crowd booed Uefa’s Champions League music.
Madrid’s fans held up a giant flag of a fan stating "Show them your colours".
They were stung to be knocked out at this stage last season after a defeat at home to Ajax, and the team that has won four of five Champions Leagues until 2018 face elimination again.
City stepped up in the second half as Mahrez curled a shot wide after being set up by de Bruyne after 49 minutes, before Isco’s 60th minute goal after a defensive mistake involving Otamendi, Rodri and Walker.
Guardiola was furious and threw a drink to the ground. Madrid resorted to a 4-5-1 to protect their lead. It didn’t work.
Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane described Guardiola as “the best coach in the world” before the match.
It won’t have gone down well in Madrid. And nor will Guardiola’s side winning 2-1.
Updated: February 27, 2020 08:14 AM