Cristiano Ronaldo returned to form at just the right time, scoring an invaluable brace as holders Real Madrid beat 10-man Bayern Munich 2-1 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday.
Madrid’s talisman, scoreless in Europe since August 2016, doubled his tally for this season’s continental completion by scoring two goals any striker would be proud of, to put Los Blancos on the brink of reaching the top-four.
Bayern, without their injured striker Robert Lewandowski and defensive stalwart Mats Hummels lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Thomas Muller and Javi Martinez replacing the injured duo.
The visitors were forced into a change of their own, with Nacho partnering Sergio Ramos in the centre of defence as Zinedine Zidane’s men looked to continue their quest of becoming the first team to retain the Champions League since its shift to the current format.
Real had the first chance of the match, Karim Benzema’s header coming off the bar after Manuel Neuer had got a fingertip to it, but after that, it was all Bayern in the first half.
And they took the lead deservedly, Arturo Vidal powering home a header from a Thiago Alcantara cross in the 25th minute. Nacho had been tasked with marking him, but the Chilean shrugged him off to beat Keylor Navas.
Vidal was at the heart of two key instances five minutes apart, which had they gone Bayern’s way, the game would have been over at half time. The first, in the 40th minute saw Vidal send a free header over after some good work from Arjen Robben on the right wing. The second, was much more controversial as match referee Nicola Rizzoli awarded a penalty to Bayern, an incorrect decision as it turned out. Dani Carvajal had not handled Franck Ribery’s shot inside the box, rather it had hit his chest but when Vidal blazed his spot-kick over, the hosts went into the interval with a slender lead.
And the lead evaporated almost immediately in the second half, Ronaldo scoring a well-taken volley from a Carvajal cross in the 47th minute. The Portuguese superstar, largely subdued as were the rest of the ‘BBC’, showcased his world-class quality yet again, requiring only a moment’s lapse of concentration from his opponent’s to turn the things around.
Bayern then hit themselves in the foot, with Javi Martinez getting two yellow cards in a span of three minutes on the hour-mark to shift the momentum firmly in the visitors’ favour.
While initially Neuer was singlehandedly keeping an increasingly-confident Real at bay, Ronaldo and co were not to be denied for long. The 32-year-old showcased his predatory instincts in the 77th minute to score the 100th European goal of his career, beating Bernat to substitute Marco Asensio’s cross.
Real continued to press for a third goal which would effectively kill off the tie and Sergio Ramos thought he had it when his header beat Neuer, only to be dismayed at the linesman raising the offside flag.
The return leg at the Santiago Bernabeu will have to witness a miracle if Bayern are to go through, for overturning a deficit from the home leg is never an easy task in the Champions League, let alone against the holders.
So Carlo Ancelotti will not be happy with the result against his former employers, but one he will have to accept as he seeks to rally his troops after a demoralising loss for the return leg on the 19th of April.
For Zidane, the victory over his former mentor will be sweet but he will have to maintain calm among his side as they enter a crunch period in which they welcome first Bayern then Barcelona at the Bernabeu in a span of few days.