In a tense Champions League semi-final first leg encounter headlined by two excellent strikes from distance, Kevin de Bruyne’s emphatic equaliser midway through the second-half saw Manchester City restore parity vs. defending champions Real Madrid during their nailbiting affair at the Bernabeu tonight.
Citizens hold firm with valuable draw
- 2022-23 season’s first UEFA Champions League semi-final tie ends in an entertaining draw after two thunderbolts, one in either half
- Next week’s winner will play either Milan or Inter in next month’s Champions League final on June 10 – first leg on Wednesday night
- Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois says next week’s second leg ‘will be like a final,’ while City midfielder Rodri hails de Bruyne’s ‘massive’ impact
Vinicius Junior and Kevin de Bruyne will predictably grab tomorrow’s headlines, after all, they delivered moments of individual brilliance to propel their teams forward.
Yet if it wasn’t for the last-ditch timely defensive contributions of Ruben Dias and David Alaba in either half, this could’ve been a much different contest.
Neither side are supreme at the back, but the visitors’ vulnerabilities were on full display as Eduardo Camavinga split them apart with a simple but ultimately deadly one-two exchange during the build-up to their opener after 36 minutes.
After exchanging passes with Luka Modric from his unorthodox left-back position, the France international advanced to leave Bernardo Silva tugging at his shirt in pursuit, as Rodri was already long out of the camera shot. He wasn’t finished there, either.
Kyle Walker was caught in two minds: cut off the passing lane to Vinicius and dare Camavinga into continuing the run, or close down and vacate his position.
He did neither with much conviction in time as the 20-year-old midfielder fed the Brazilian, who took one touch to push the ball ahead before unleashing a sweet strike beyond Ederson’s best efforts. Already running to celebrate, he knew it was in.
It was Real’s first shot on target, and felt like a hammer blow to a City side who largely dominated possession with a cluster of early half-chances. Yet, jeopardy still lingered.
Ten minutes earlier, they could’ve conceded again and quite easily too: Rodri was pickpocketed after playing a slack pass in his own half, with the goalscorer pouncing to fizz a low cross as Karim Benzema lurked inside the area.
Dias’ sliding interception denied the Ballon d’Or winner a tap-in finish, on an evening where the Portuguese was busy (four tackles, two clearances and interceptions, one block) and held firm as has been the norm for him across their UCL campaign.
“When we were better they score, when they were we did. Tight, tight game. The Bernabeu in the semi-final, sometimes we had good moments and sometimes it was difficult with the quality they have on the ball. Final next Wednesday at home with our people.”
- Pep Guardiola during his post-match interview with BT Sport
Down the other end… a selection dilemma
Thibaut Courtois was equal to most, but would’ve been called into action ten minutes after the restart if not for Alaba’s perfectly-timed sliding block.
Antonio Rudiger’s block on Ilkay Gundogan’s probing pass fell kindly for Erling Haaland, who timed his run well and took a good first touch towards goal.
Alaba met him with an excellent challenge as he struck on the second, his favoured left side, as you could see large sections of the Bernabeu crowd rise to their feet in appreciation of the Austrian’s intervention. They marshalled the Norwegian well.
As far as unrealistic expectations go, de Bruyne is a victim of his own success. The exhausting pressure on his shoulders applies both at club and international level, so it felt fitting he was the man inspiring City to a hard-fought draw on Spanish soil.
Camavinga relinquished possession twice in quick succession to set the ball rolling, but City still had plenty to do – even if Silva dubiously avoided capture in keeping their move going near the touchline. Carlo Ancelotti was angry, but it was karma.
Rodri laid off Jack Grealish, who in turn fed Gundogan and Rudiger forced him backwards into de Bruyne’s path: striking sweetly against a compatriot in Courtois.
He made a series of saves, including a big one from de Bruyne at his near post ten minutes earlier, but there was no stopping this screamer arrowing into the far corner.
Rudiger’s aggressive defensive style has its strengths and flaws, but very nearly cost Los Blancos dearly in that sequence. They can’t afford many risks in Manchester.
The former Roma and Chelsea centre-back can match Haaland physically, but it’ll be interesting to see whether Carlo Ancelotti opts in sticking with him over Eder Militao next week once the Brazilian returns after serving a yellow card suspension.
After watching Real survive multiple poor challenges and underhand tactics without punishment, you can be certain the second leg will not be officiated the same way.
Dani Carvajal and Rudiger alone down Real’s right-hand side totted up half-a-dozen fouls without reproach and City teams of old might’ve reacted differently.
If Militao is welcomed back into the fold, there are further decisions to make. Alaba could shift over to left-back, allowing Camavinga a return to his more natural midfield role – that happened during their 5-2 last-16 win over Liverpool at Anfield.
Rodrygo was quiet on this occasion and it’d mean he, or one of the midfield trio (Modric, Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde) drops out to make way. A smash-and-grab win isn’t out of the question, and has haunted City in continental fixtures before.
Lyon and Tottenham are the two most recent that come to mind, while Chelsea didn’t have to be at their best to pip them to the title in Porto two seasons ago.
Pep Guardiola didn’t make a single change – the first time that’s happened in a UCL semi-final since 2006-07 – and while Aurelien Tchouameni almost broke their hearts late on with a well-struck effort of his own, he’ll be satisfied given the circumstances.
They’re going home and have it in their own hands. At this stage last season they capitulated spectacularly away from home, but are unbeaten since early February and will be itching to right those painful wrongs in-front of their own support.
Picture source: Getty Images, quotes via BBC