Thursday, August 5, 2021

Manchester City 2-1 Real Madrid: What are the 3 big talking points from the Etihad?

Tom Dunstan in Editorial, UEFA Champions League 8 Aug 2020

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Picking up a 2-1 win when they made the trip out to Madrid back in February, it was a matter of repeat rather than revenge for Manchester City on their Champions League return.

Landing an identical outcome at the Etihad on Friday night, goals from Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling either side of the break helped the now-former Premier League champions book a one-game quarter-final against Lyon out in Lisbon next week.

While Karim Benzema’s equalizer might have briefly breathed life into Los Blancos’ search for a miracle, a Madrid side with six European winners in their starting XI could not handle Pep Guardiola’s free-scoring youngsters.

Coming past the newly-crowned Spanish champions in what turned out to be routine fashion, what are the three big talking points after Friday’s heavyweight showdown at the Etihad?

Madrid’s defensive disaster class

Making the trip to Manchester knowing that they needed a minor miracle if they were to overturn the deficit on Friday, the last thing Zinedine Zidane would have been hoping for was a string of schoolboy errors.

With skipper and talisman Sergio Ramos shown a petulant late red card in their first-leg defeat prior to the enforced break, Los Blancos lacked that leadership at the back and someone who was able to get a grip of proceedings.

While Raphaël Varane’s performances over the past two years might have seen him regarded as one of the best central defenders across the continent, the World Cup-winner endured the most testing 90 minutes of his career.

Having his pocket picked twice by a lively Gabriel Jesus and almost single-handily gifting City two of the most simple of finishes, he drastically struggled to find a rapport with Ramos’ deputy, Éder Militão.

With the duo offering what many thought was an improving Madrid defence virtually know security, the mistakes quickly began to spread through an aging Los Blancos’ squad.

Opting to revert back to what he knows best and reinstalling Toni Kroos at the heart of his midfield, Zidane would have not been impressed to have seen a string of almost-suicidal mistakes from the likes of Casemiro and Dani Carvajal.

Sterling – Hit, Hazard – Miss

While Madrid’s French icon might have seen his side gift City a showdown with Lyon on Friday night, there is no doubt that Raheem Sterling will be wishing he could play against that Los Blancos’ defence every week.

Although many were curious if the Sky Blues could finish the job off without an injured Sergio Aguero, Guardiola’s new attacking MVP again stepped up to the mark and has continued to lead City’s charge in scintillating fashion.

Opening the scoring after Gabriel Jesus capitalised on Varane’s howler, the 25-year-old has enjoyed a career-best campaign at the Etihad and his form since returning from the break has continued to impress.

Recording his 100th Sky Blues goal across all competitions on the grandest of stages, that was Sterling’s 31st strike of the season and he has now managed to record 12 post-lockdown goals.

Creating a string of chances and at the heart of everything positive that City produced, the England international will know that on another day he could have left with the match-ball.

While one winger might have once again added to his tally at the Etihad, it was far from a Premier League fairy tale return for Eden Hazard.

Despite a few sparks in the first-half, the former Chelsea ace was largely a spectator out wide on the left and his performance on Friday almost epitomized the 29-year-olds debut season at the Bernabéu.

Hit with a string of injury issues following his €100million move from Stamford Bridge last summer, Hazard was making just his 22nd appearance for Los Blancos on his English return and will now be glad to simply focus his attention on next year.

Is this City’s year?

Heaving a sigh of relief after watching their initial two-year European ban controversially overturned last month, the Sky Blues picked up a real scalp on Friday and they breezed past a Madrid side glittering with stars.

Handing Zidane his first Champions League knockout tie defeat during his two stints in the Spanish capital, Guardiola still has his sights firmly set on lifting his own first European title since 2011 when he was with Barcelona.

Watching Liverpool snatch their Premier League crown this season and the FA Cup wiped off the table at Wembley last month, City’s empathic 4-2 aggregate win now sees them sat as a clear favourite with the bookmakers in this summers tournament.

Making the trip out to Lisbon for what is a one-off showdown against a Lyon outfit that managed to shock many and come past newly-crowned Italian champions Juventus on Friday, the Sky Blues are currently priced at 23/10 with Unibet to lift their first Champions League title later this summer.

With many feeling that City have a golden opportunity next weekend, is this Guardiola and Manchester City’s year to taste European success?


Tom Dunstan

Formerly of The Independent, Tom is a freelance football and boxing journalist from Essex, England. Currently working for three online publications, Tom is a graduate of the University of Falmouth and has spent the last two years writing across Australia, New Zealand and Asia. He can be followed at @IamTomDunstan



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