KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Manchester City staged their most masterful European performance under Pep Guardiola by shrugging off their problems and recovering from a goal down to defeat Real Madrid 2-1 in their Champions League second round first leg in the Estadio Bernabeu
The night’s other tie saw Lyon defeat Juventus 1-0 with a 31st minute goal from French youth international Lucas Tousart.
Ironically City worked their path to victory by taking a leaf out of managerial manual employed so successfully for so long across Manchester by Sir Alex Ferguson during his reign when United were the dominant force in English football.
Ferguson would goad his players to play above themselves by instilling a siege mentality. Similarly City stepped out believing that the world was against them as they responded to the stress of a failed Premier title defence and prospect of a two-year from European ban for breaching UEFA’s financial fair play rules.
City had registered their appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport the previous day and now it was up to the players to do their share of the business out on the pitch.
** Manchester City have registered an appeal with CAS against their two-year UEFA club competitions ban **
Guardiola’s Spanish record against Madrid was remarkable. In four seasons as Barcelona coach he had brought his team to Madrid on seven occasions, winning five, drawing two and losing none.
He had also won the Champions League twice while as Clasico rivals Barcelona but had lost that particular magic touch.
With so much at stake Guardiola risked the barely-fit Aymeric Laporte at the centre of a four-man defence and preferred the youthful pace of Gabriel Jesus rather than the veteran Sergio Aguero. Raheem Sterling, barely recovered from a hamstring injury, sat alongside the Argentinian on the substitutes’ bench.
City’s game plan soon became clear: to sit deep, stifle Madrid in attack and central midfield and hit at speed on the break. The reversal of City’s customary possession game baffled Madrid. Hence the opening half an hour saw City manufacture the only opening when Gabriel Jesus forced a close-range save from Thibaut Courtois.
Madrid sought to raise the pace in response. Benjamin Mendy was booked for a foul on Luka Modric which will rule the French leftback out of the second leg. Then Ederson dived low to his right to keep out a Karim Benzema header. Fortunately for City Vinicius slipped as he was about to poke the loose ball into the net.
** CHAMPIONS LGE this week: Chelsea 0, FC Bayern 3; Napoli 1, Barcelona 1; Lyon 1, Juventus 0; Real Madrid 1, Man. City 2 **
City’s defensive plan suffered a setback when Laporte, who missed the first four months of the season with knee trouble, had to be substituted by Fernandinho. But they ended the first half on top with Gabriel Jesus having a deflected shot after a corner cleared off the Madrid goal-line.
City continued in the second half where they left off in the first. Riyad Mahrez caused all sorts of problems on the City right. He curled one shot wide then forced two good saves from Courtois who has never kept a clean sheet in nine appearances against City.
Finally, a breakthrough. On the hour and against the run of play, Madrid took the lead. Rodri and Nicolas Otamendi confused each other in the City midfield and Vinicius escaped down the left to square for unmarked Isco to score easily.
The goal presented Guardiola with a choice between maintaining his defensive strategy against a more lively Madrid or chasing an equaliser. He took the positive option, sent out Sterling and was rewarded twice over. Kevin de Bruyne provided the cross for a first goal from Gabriel Jesus then converted a penalty after Sterling was brought down by Dani Carvajal.
Sergio Ramos was sent off for bringing down Jesus as City progressed deservedly to their first victory over Madrid in six meetings.
Lyon edge Juve
Lyon produced a spirited display to take a surprise 1-0 lead after the first leg of their last-16 tie against Juventus.
Lucas Tousart scored the only goal in the first half as the hosts claimed their first victory over the Italian giants.
Juve started confidently but failed to create any clear chances before Tousart converted Houssem Aouar’s cross from close range to hand the Ligue 1 side the lead.
The visitors continued to have more possession but they struggled to penetrate the resolute Lyon defence, failing to register a single shot on target. With the clock ticking down, Juve ramped up the pressure, but Paulo Dybala’s late strike was ruled out for offside.