Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City will take a slender one-goal lead into the UEFA Champions League semifinal second-leg in eight days’ time after defeating Spanish giants Real Madrid 4-3 in the first leg, in a ridiculously thrilling encounter at the Etihad on Wednesday (IST).
Manchester City, who are also leading the Premier League table, held a two-goal advantage on three separate occasions, but were pegged back each time by Real who refused to buckle on an enthralling night.
The top-flight England club couldn’t have asked for a better start, with a goal inside two minutes to send the Etihad into raptures. Looking sharp and focused from the off, the ball was played out to Riyad Mahrez on the right and the Algerian breezed past a clutch of defenders before picking out Kevin De Bruyne’s superbly-timed late run. The Belgian guided a low header past international team-mate Thibaut Courtois to make it 1-0, reports mancity.com.
Nine minutes later, Phil Foden carried the ball down the left before playing it back to De Bruyne who crossed into the feet of Gabriel Jesus who took advantage of David Alaba’s poor touch to slot the ball past Thibaut Courtois and send the Etihad into wild celebrations once again.
Mahrez and Foden should have increased the lead in the opening 30 minutes but were wayward. On the 33rd minute, Real’s Karim Benzema turned Ferland Mendy’s cross home with the deftest of volleys. The second-half began as the first as Mahrez raced clear only to see his shot strike the post and Dani Carvajal blocked Foden’s follow-up.
However, five minutes later Fernandinho — a first-half replacement for John Stones — sent in a sublime cross for Foden to head home from close range. City’s two-goal advantage, however, lasted just three minutes as Vinicius Junior span off Fernandinho just inside his own half before racing towards goal down the left flank and eventually tucking a low shot past Ederson.
For the third time in the contest, City went two goals clear. In the 74th minute, Oleks Zinchenko cut inside a challenge on the edge of the box and was brought down. The referee played the advantage and while a clutch of Real defenders seemed to stop, Bernardo picked up the loose ball and thumped it into the top left corner to make it 4-2.
But Real were not giving up just yet. A cross into the City box saw the ball strike the arm of Aymeric Laporte as he went up for a header and the referee pointed to the dreaded spot. Benzema was never going to miss, and he slotted the penalty home to make it 4-3 with 82 minutes on the clock.
City tried to restore that elusive two-goal lead in the time that remained and came close to doing just that with a couple of back-post crosses but Ruben Dias’s efforts to connect went in vain.
City will travel to Madrid for the second-leg riding high on the one-goal lead, and knowing that away goals no longer count as double. Pep’s team will be back in Premier League action on Saturday as City make the trip to Pennines to face Leeds United at Eland Road.
Result: Manchester City 4 (Kevin De Bruyne 2nd min; Gabriel Jesus 11th, Phil Foden 53rd, Bernardo Silva 74th) beat Real Madrid 3 (Karim Benzema 33rd and 82nd; Vinicius Junior 55th).
(Inputs from IANS)