The return of the Champions League: Real Madrid Vs Manchester City

Posted on September 18, 2012

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The first big clash in the Champions League ‘group of death’ saw the Galacticos of Real Madrid take on Manchester City at the Bernabeu in the first big game of Group D.

The pre-match talk was centred on the attacking prowess and the calibre of players that both teams possess, especially Cristiano Ronaldo and David Silva.  The good news for City was the return of Sergio Aguero to the bench after his knee injury which he picked up on the opening day of the Premier League season.  Real Madrid’s bench was filled with attacking talent in Mesut Ozil, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric.  There were also two surprising selections in the defensive ranks of both sides with Mancini giving a first start to young Serbian defender Mattija Nastasic and Mourinho to centre back Raphael Varane.  The intentions of both sides were made obvious with both teams starting with strong, defensive players in the centre of the park.  However, I expected this to be an open and attacking game of football.

The game started at a relatively slow pace with both sides remaining tight early on, but it was Real Madrid who looked the most threatening in the first 15 minutes.  Cristiano Ronaldo looked particularly dangerous forcing two solid saves from Joe Hart.  The first saw the Portuguese winger deceive City captain Vincent Kompany with some brilliant quick footwork to cut inside and then attempt to pass the ball into the bottom corner. However, Hart was up to the task and got down quickly to make the save.  Ronaldo had a similar effort minutes later after another cut in from the left hand side.  His effort cannoned off of Gonzalo Higuain’s head and into Joe Hart’s chest as he dived to make the save from the initial shot.

Manchester City didn’t really manage to threaten Madrid during the opening half an hour of the game and the Spanish side created another opportunity which again fell to the Argentine forward, Higuain.  The ball was looped over the top into the path of Higuain who made a perfectly timed run through the City defence, but once again Joe Hart was out quick and used his imposing figure to great effect to make another save, this time from point blank.

City couldn’t get their creative players on the ball as David Silva and Samir Nasri struggled to influence the attacking play.  However, Yaya Toure was quick to change this with a surging run from his own half past the Madrid midfield and onto their back line.  Toure looked to set up Nasri with a delicate through ball which just eluded the French attacking midfielder.  That was Nasri’s last major involvement in the game as minutes later he was forced off with what looked to be a hamstring strain.  Aleksandar Kolarov came on to replace the midfielder.  Yaya Toure then made another signature run from the City midfield, showing his pace and power but once again it came to nothing.  Another opportunity for Madrid came on 40 minutes as a cross from Di Maria eluded both defender and goalkeeper, into the path of Higuain who was unable to convert from the edge of the six yard box.

The second half saw Real Madrid have the opening effort with a shot from the edge of the box by Angel Di Maria, which deflected wide of the mark.  Madrid kept up the pressure but City remained resolute.  The first booking of the game came for Javi Garcia after a strong but fair sliding tackle that saw the referee blow his whistle.  Unfortunately, this is too often the case with continental football and officials.

Brilliant pieces of play from Ronaldo and Marcelo down the left saw the two combine and the Brazilian fullback fire a dangerous ball across the six yard box, but the City defence managed to clear the ball.  Madrid continued to press well and Roberto Mancini’s men struggled to maintain any meaningful possession.  David Silva provided an outlet with some good hold up play to win a free kick on 61 minutes.  The Spaniard was then replaced by Edin Dzeko as Mancini looked to change his tactics in the hope that the ball would stick up front with the big Bosnian forward.  Mourinho also brought on some fresh legs for Madrid in Mesut Ozil who replaced Michael Essien.

However, after all of Madrid’s pressure on Manchester City it was the Sky Blues who took the lead.  The goal stemmed from City’s most dangerous player Yaya Toure, who wriggled out from several challenges in his own half and used his pace to drive past the Madrid midfield and defence.  The Ivorian then coolly slotted the ball through to substitute Edin Dzeko, who had both time and space and finished the move with a composed strike past Iker Cassilas at his near post.  This was the catalyst for major attacking changes for Real Madrid as Karim Benzema and Luka Modric were introduced just after the 70 minute mark to replace Higuain and Khedira.  Pablo Zabaleta also came on for city in place of Maicon.

Real Madrid managed to equalise relatively quickly after City went ahead as Marcelo cut inside on the edge of the box and curled a right footed shot towards goal that deflected over Joe Hart and into the net.  City nearly went straight up the other end to reclaim their one goal lead as Carlos Tevez crossed form the right towards fellow countryman Pablo Zabaleta who didn’t make any sort of contact and failed to steer the ball home from 4 yards out.  Madrid once again pilled on the pressure with strong efforts from Benzema, Alonso and Modric which were stopped convincingly by Joe Hart as the game moved into the final stages.

City didn’t give up and eventually won a free kick on the right hand side in the Madrid third and Kolarov whipped in a wicked free kick that flashed passed everyone in the box and into the bottom left corner of Casillas’ net to put City 1-2 up.  However, Madrid replied instantly with a goal from Karim Benzema who turned well on the edge of the box and slotted the ball away to level the scores at 2-2.  Joe Hart was then called into action again as a Madrid counter attack ended with a shot from Ronaldo which was well saved by the England stopper who was in magnificent form and made another save at the feet of Di Maria seconds later.  As good as Hart was, he was finally beaten again by Cristiano Ronaldo who cut inside Zabaleta and struck the ball well, over the head of a ducking Kompany to beat Hart in the last minute snatch and grab from the Spanish Champions.

Madrid showed terrific spirit to come back from twice going behind to win the game 3-2.  The final ten minutes of the game was absolutely terrific to watch and kept everyone on the edge of their seat right up until Ronaldo slotted in the winner for Madrid.  Overall, it was defensive errors that cost Manchester City the game as they rode their luck on several occasions at the back.  Roberto Mancini’s side must be stronger at defensively against the top European teams if they are to challenge for the Champions League trophy.

Real Madrid deserved to win the game judging by the run of play throughout the game as they created the better chances and their overall attacking play and pressure on the ball was very good.  City will need to recover quickly from this result and not dwell on this loss in order to continue their trophy challenges on all fronts.

By Jamie Allen

Line Ups

Real Madrid: Casilla; Arbeloa, Pepe, Varane, Marcelo; Khedira, Alonso; Di Maria, Essien, C Ronaldo; Higuian
Subs: Antonio, Sergio Ramos, Coentrao, Kaka, Benzema, Ozil, Modric

Manchester City: Hart; Maicon, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy; Javi Gracia, Y Touré, Barry; Silva, Nasri; Tevez
Subs: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Lescott, Dzeko, Kolarov, Aguero, Rodwell

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Posted in: Football