Pep Guardiola set Manchester City up to play a style of football that Real Madrid will know well. In an instant, Madrid showed him why they know it well. Manchester City had been on top of the game just before the hour mark when they were bitten by their own mistakes, but in a true show of character and desire, Manchester City rallied in glorious fashion.
Pep Guardiola Set Manchester City Up Perfectly
Real Madrid’s Goal
If there was ever a goal that represented a microcosm of this season, it would be this one. Manchester City were playing their best football of the night. They were threatening Real Madrid, forcing saves from Thibaut Courtois and forcing giveaways from their outfield. Then, they threw it all away.
It started with Nicolas Otamendi, getting into trouble with the ball. Then, he rocketed a pass to Rodrigo in traffic. Rodrigo controlled it nicely then tried to play it back to Otamendi instead of into an open teammate; and boom. Ball turned over, Real Madrid running the other way.
Kyle Walker had a chance to make a vital intervention and had a position on Vinicius when the young Brazilian nipped the ball before Walker could clear it. Vinicius dribbled and played in Isco and just like that Man City were behind 1-0.
After the goal, it looked like Manchester City could get overrun. They were deflated, they gave the ball away, and if Madrid had been more clinical they could have put the tie away. Then, though, it swung back just as fast.
It started after Raheem Sterling came on for Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese midfielder was not awful, but this certainly was not one of his best performances. Yet, Sterling gave Manchester City the isolation option they needed to get back at Real and having his isolation gave Kevin De Bruyne the space he needed.
De Bruyne was able to beat Dani Carvajal to get the cross in that Gabriel Jesus headed into the back of the net. Six minutes later, he was able to score the crucial penalty that gave City the win. Plus, it was De Bruyne’s pass that played in Jesus which forced the red card given to Sergio Ramos. The Madrid captain will now miss the trip to Manchester.
How Pep Guardiola Set Manchester City Up
Pep Guardiola employed one of the more surprising tactical strategies of his career. He did not seek to dominate possession as he has so many times before. Instead, he changed his team to play Europe’s most valuable style; lightning counter-attacks.
Real Madrid have always been Europe’s best example of counter-attacking play, and Guardiola used that against them. Manchester City spent the first half cagily allowing Madrid to have more of the ball than they expected. It was a clear attempt to have Los Blancos open up more than they may have liked.
Then, City blitzed Madrid as only they could. They came out for the second half to try and use that false sense of security to force a break, and there were a couple of half-chances, including a very nice save from Thibaut Courtois before Madrid found the opener.
What Guardiola will undoubtedly be most proud of from this game is the way his team responded to that opener. Coming all the way back to win at the Bernabeu is the type of accomplishment that changes fortunes and alters careers. These Manchester City players needed a win like that.
The Second Leg
It’s obviously massive for Manchester City going back home with a win and two away goals. It’s probably even more important that Sergio Ramos won’t be going to Manchester with his team, and it’s pretty unlikely that Gabriel Jesus will spend as much time defending Dani Carvajal in the second leg as he did tonight.
It is as likely, though, that Pep Guardiola will come up with another unexpected plan for this game as well. The only concern now is whether or not Guardiola will be able to count on players like Aymeric Laporte or Leroy Sane in the second leg. Having those two away goals, however, might be more important than anything else.