Billed as a contest between the kings of the Champions League and the side looking to gain control of the throne, the tie got off to a tense start as Real Madrid held Manchester City to a 1-1 draw in this semifinal’s first leg at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium on Tuesday.
Much of the buildup was centered around this match being the “true” final of the competition, and the first leg showed glimpses of the quality onlookers were expecting from two of Europe’s best.
In sweltering conditions, Vinícius Jr. opened the scoring in the first half with an incredible strike against the run of play with City controlling the early exchanges.
Not to be outdone, Kevin De Bruyne equalized midway through the second half with a fizzing short which arrowed past Thibaut Courtois.
The game started how many would have expected, City dominating the ball with Real happy to allow their opponents the lion’s share of possession.
However, Pep Guardiola’s side did little with the possession they were afforded, and Real was a threat throughout on the break.
On one of its forays forward, Vinicius picked up the ball from Eduardo Camavinga and fired a ball straight past his international colleague, Ederson, in the City goal.
Despite boasting 68% of the ball in the first half, City went in at the break 1-0 down and Real returned from the interval in control.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team kept more of the ball following the break, but De Bruyne’s bullet got City back on level terms – much to the Real coach’s annoyance.
Ancelotti claimed the ball went out of play in the buildup to the equalizer and subsequently received a yellow card for his protestations.
“The ball was off the pitch,” Ancelotti told reporters after the game. “That’s it. Technology said it. I don’t understand why VAR didn’t check. The referee didn’t pay attention to many things.”
The home side then went close to grabbing a winner through both Karim Benzema and Aurélien Tchouaméni as the game neared its conclusion – both attempts thwarted by Ederson.
Haaland threat nullified
City coach Guardiola pointed to the match’s topsy-turvy nature, telling BT Sport: “When we were better, they scored. When they were better, we scored – tight, tight game.”
Guardiola then declared that next week’s all-important clash is a “final.” Whether Real can reach the final in Istanbul on June 10 and win the European Cup for a 15th time could well depend on replicating the way it minimized Erling Haaland’s threat in the first leg.
Haaland has broken record after record since arriving at City last year and has scored 12 Champions League goals this season – four more than anyone else in the competition.
The Norwegian, who has 51 goals to his name this season, has been central to City’s push to become the second English team, after Manchester United in 1999, to win a domestic treble: the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup all in the same season.
However, on Tuesday, Haaland came up second best, notably in some rugged exchanges with Antonio Rüdiger.
“He had a fantastic game, clearly we have to highlight that,” said Ancelotti of Rüdiger.
“But everyone did, because defensively we did very well, they did not make many chances.
“They scored from outside the box … because the team had a great game on a defensive level.”
Tuesday’s game was a rematch of last year’s semifinal in which Real overturned a first-leg defeat and late second-leg deficit before triumphing against Liverpool in the final. The second leg of the semifinal is on May 17.