Real Madrid advances to the Champions League final
In most cases, a win by one team in the first game with a minimal advantage would have left a roughly equal chance of overall success, of passing on. In this case, however, many were of the opinion that City were the favorites. Rather because of the way the game unfolded in England, as well as the resources and influence both teams had on the game.
Most of the match in Madrid confirmed this position. You can’t say that Manchester City dominated. It wasn’t. That said, Guardiola’s team were in control. Diasch and Laporte managed to keep a close eye on the movements of the ubiquitous Benzema, and the timely return of Walker blocked the path of the swift Vinicius – their confrontation is a separate story.
At the same time, the magnificent trio of Casemiro, Kroos and Modrić did not lose the battle in midfield. Even if they worked at times on the limit. Even with a 0-0 score, the tension was palpable. In many ways, it was due to very active pressure, which forced us to constantly move, and we could not take a break even in our own penalty box.
Even in the game in Manchester it was noticeable how difficult it was for Real Madrid to give them the rhythm of the game, often set by the Citizens. The Madrid side are used to a different intensity. You have to understand that we’re still talking about top-class players on both sides. Only “City” in a high rhythm and pressure works better. Holding a comfortable 0-0, constantly piling up rhythm and pressure, the Citizens methodically took the strength and spirit out of Real Madrid, where a lot depends on older players, even if they seem to have two lives.
One would expect that with such a shaky equilibrium, which the slightest mistake could swing to one side, coaches would hold off with substitutions until the last minute. But let’s not forget about the first point – exhaustion. “City, after all, also fed their rhythm not from outer space. And yet it was Guardiola’s plan that worked at first. Ancelotti was the first to have to replace one of the immutable veterans.
Kroos left. And replacing him with Rodrigo didn’t look obvious. Who knew that the Brazilian was going to make history. More precisely, we could have expected the latter to come out, but rather in place of Valverde, who looked less impressive than the entire trio in midfield. But it was precisely here that Ancelotti had to take the exhaustion factor into account. Fede went down in midfield in place of Kroos. Guardiola removed his warm-up players, De Bruyne and Walker. And the latter was probably injured.
But Kevin’s replacement looked about as unexpected as Ancelotti’s Rodrigo in place of Kroos. Switching to substitutions and constant pressure still led Real Madrid to make a mistake, and the attack, started just by Zinchenko and Gundogan, ended with a pass from Bernardo to Marez, and a goal from Riyadh. Guardiola’s plan worked and executed like clockwork. Ancelotti also removed two other key midfielders, Modric and Casemiro, and put in Asensio and Camaviga.
It looked like the sunset of the great three and a gesture of desperation. Especially since it didn’t add quality to the game. Everything remained under the control of City, which had already taken the lead in shots and possession of the ball, although almost all the time the opponents were level. By the 89th minute, City had 11 shots and 52 percent possession compared to Real Madrid’s eight. Most importantly, nine of City’s 11 shots were on target, while Real Madrid had none. That’s the consequence of controlling the situation. And had it not been for Courtois, the accuracy advantage would have been on the scoreboard more clearly.
It’s a time of soccer wonders
In movies, it is common for characters to experience a colossal fall, a peak of despair, before rising and beginning to rise. Two consecutive episodes with Grealish at Courtois’ goal could be considered such a moment. Jack simply pierced the defense, after the first shot from the goal line the ball was miraculously taken out by Mendy, and in the next attack saved with the cleats of the goalkeeper. But Real looked hopeless, which was felt in every movement of the players of both teams. With the score at 1-0, the City acted as if they were finishing off an opponent who had conceded five unanswered goals.
And then it began. It’s hard to explain it by any soccer, tactical factors. When it comes to the final minutes of such games, it’s more about psychology, the ability to keep cool or, conversely, to get psyched up. And Ancelotti’s seemingly strange substitutions were there. Rodrigo had an incredible eye for goal in the 90th and 91st minutes. First, he showed off his shot after a Benzema pass (what could be without him!?), and then he spectacularly jumped onto the goalkeeper’s line.
City, who had executed the plan perfectly for most of the match, failed to do so in the most crucial minutes, losing concentration. After those mistakes it was no longer possible to play in such a collected manner, and the same Benzema, whose movements were tirelessly monitored by Laporte and Dias, still caught on the movement of Ruben, who came to the feet of the Frenchman and brought a penalty. What good was the plan if strength of character and the magic of the moment were still decisive?
Lessons of salvation
Guardiola threw Sterling in to save the team. There’s no sense of tactical finesse here. Especially as a tired Real Madrid team was barely able to move. Ancelotti even had to replace Benzema, and then Vinicius and Eder, who couldn’t walk and complained of cramped legs and groin problems. Of course, Madrid tried to stall by any means available. But neither did City take advantage of the chances they had, even at this rate.
They could have silenced a roaring Santiago Bernabeu, but Sterling was no savior, Fernandinho missed at point-blank range, and the Citizens did not show the same ferocious desire and dedication to fighting that Real Madrid and its players did. It was no longer a matter of perfect passes or miscues. Everyone made mistakes and made a lot of them, but some of them fought back, while others tried to regain the momentum and were nervous about failing to do so.
Separately, Real Madrid’s path to the playoffs is worth noting. The Madrid players came up with their own emotional doping. They lost to PSG and were losing at home, but escaped at the end and won by the right score. They lost at home to Chelsea by a devastating 0-3 score, but managed to escape at the very end. They lost away to City and lost at home but managed to pull out the match.
That Real Madrid never won anywhere on a clean sheet, on a tactic built from the beginning, on composure. It always pulled out its success through the inspiration of individual players or the entire team. He simply didn’t give up even in the toughest situations, which he had over and over again. This Real’s journey is a good guide to motivation.