I had a dream I could buy my way to heaven
When I awoke, I spent that on a necklace
Man it's so hard not to act reckless
To whom much is given, much is tested — Kanye West in Can’t Tell Me Nothing
Last night against Real Madrid, Manchester City were out on a mission as the nouveau riche to showcase their football like jewellery and posture in a Victorian ballroom. Last night they wanted to show the world that the Champions League would be poorer without them. And they pulled that off in the backyard of Europe’s most successful club, Real Madrid.
Away from home, Manchester City beat Real Madrid 1-2, with goals from Gabriel Jesus and Kevin de Bruyne pipping Isco’s effort.
Starting next season, English champions, Manchester City will be suspended for two editions of UEFA club competitions that include the Champions League and the Europa League. They were also fined €30 million on the 14 February, this year.
This came to pass because the Shiekh-powered money that runs City disregarded Financial Fair Play rules flagrantly. The unlawful acts were obstinate, self-righteous, and even in response, the club showed no remorse; only resentment and clout. Pep Guardiola portrayed his club as the victims in a grand scheme to undermine their brilliance. CEO Ferran Soriano had this to say: “The most important thing I have to say today is that the allegations are not true. They are simply not true.” He chimed in with Guardiola’s PR tact of playing the victim card.
They took the matter up to the Court of Arbitration of Sports past Wednesday.
This is the reality of modern football — the cash-heavy superclubs who know their worth, twisting wrists after they have had theirs slapped.
The European high table exists. It’s not imaginary. It includes the legacy clubs whose feats formed the pillars of European club competition’s appeal. Bayern, Barcelona, and Real Madrid are the elder statesmen, the aristocrats among others who have earned the right to their seats through decades of all-conquering. Manchester City in that regard are seen as the newly-rich kid who pulled up to the party on their swanky Koenigsegg, uninvited. Speakers blaring Kanye West and Travis Scott songs proclaiming the digits in their bank account loud enough for the world’s taxpayers to hear.
It is this pugnacious pride that adds the strut to Manchester City’s football, as on display last year and last night. You have seen that scene in every generic action movie where the cocky antihero flicks a lighter over his shoulder lighting a trail of gasoline that eventually eviscerates a warehouse. The black leather jacket and the hairdo untouched by the slow-motioned flaming projectiles. Over the course of 90 minutes plus added on time, this imagery was cemented. Real Madrid club captain Sergio Ramos’ sending added to the insult. And the Santiago Bernabeu is more of a mansion than a warehouse.
At the start of the game, the Real Madrid fans hollered slogans of “put the cheaters in their place.” The atmosphere was electric, and the stands seemed steeper than usual. Real Madrid wanted to land a psychological blow even before the ball was kicked. They did their best. But consider the fact that this Manchester City team have had to visit Liverpool’s Anfield stadium on more than one occasion as league rivals. If you’ve played against that crowd and that intensity, few other places faze you. Real Madrid’s home stadium wasn’t one of them.
The Real Madrid players arrived in their best Hugo, Armani, while Manchester City players arrived in jaggedy casuals and bleached denim and Off Whites. As the Champions League anthem blew from the speakers, Manchester City players clenched their jaw.
On the touchline, Pep Guardiola went back to his old Barcelona playbook and focussed on depriving the ball off Real Madrid as much as possible. The old possession-based City seemed not merely good but played as they have trotted this turf a hundred times. There was no ill-ease, there was no imposter syndrome. In fact, such were their confidence that it left Real Madrid players disorientated in the opening exchanges.
Guardiola has had the tendency to over-plan in knockout fixtures where the dice rolls in the favour of the one play with more effort than the economy. Once the line-up came it seemed like Guardiola would undo himself: Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Fernandinho were benched. Instead, Gabriel Jesus, and misfits and perpetual anxiety-producers Nicolas Otamendi, Benjamin Mendy were given the nod to prove themselves. Both teams cancelled each other out during the first half. It was during the tail end of the second half did Guardiola’s plan began to unfurl like a figurative flag that was to be planted on the Bernebeu pitch. But it was not without some bumps.
The Isco goal came completely against the run of play. A collective spatial misunderstanding between Otamendi, Rodri and Kyle Walker, meant spaces opened up in the City backline. First Modric pickpocketed Rodri, then Vinicius dispossessed a dallying Walker to square the ball to an unattended Isco, who converted at the hour mark.
The introduction of a fresh Raheem Sterling on the 73rd minute proved to be a masterstroke as it flipped the beat on Madrid. The focal point of reckless challenges, the England international pulled tired Real defenders towards him.
A free Kevin de Bruyne delivered a sumptuous cross, planting it on Gabriel Jesus’s head and over Sergio Ramos’. 1-1, 78th minute.
A visibly jaded Daniel Carvajal slid in on Raheem Sterling to concede a penalty. The ball was going out of play, away from goal, and the tackle overall was a dangerous one. A giveaway of a tired mind.
83rd minute: De Bruyne sent his countryman the wrong way to make the score 1-2 in favour of City.
It was the classic sucker-punch. When the whistle blew, Real Madrid were aching and sore, while the City players were zooming around celebrating. A message to the European aristocrats was duly sent and received. As luxury streetwear designer Virgil Abloh once proclaimed: The young and rich always win.
Elsewhere, Lyon won 1-0 at the expense of European giants Juventus in Piedmont, France. This was Juventus’ first loss in this year’s edition of the competition and Lyon’s first proper win. Lucas Tousart gave the French team the lead on the 31st minute, and have a chance of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time in 10 years. As opposed to Juventus' untidy football, the former French champions provided a collective display of poise and tactics.
The Italian champions were static in their movement and Cristiano Ronaldo was made to look average by the lack of supply. The return leg on 17 March will pose a lot of questions for Juventus, who have largely coasted to favourable results in Europe this year, powered by the second-best player in the world.
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Updated Date: Feb 27, 2020 13:28:35 IST