Champions League: Manchester City's howling appetite sees them through to quarter-finals as Real Madrid, Juventus bow out
There was a stink of complacency in the pre-match preparations of Real. Attitudes relaxed since their domestic title win, while City’s appetite was howling.
European football is finally back after what seemed like a hiatus that wouldn’t end. The competition began with the second leg of the round of 16 matches played in the quarantined bubble of Lisbon. Last night, we had games that were balanced on a knife-edge. Let’s have a look as to which way the favour fell.
Manchester City 2 - Real Madrid 1 (Manchester City advance with an aggregate of 4-2)
At the fade-out of the blaring, celebratory trumpets tooting the major keys of Liverpool’s domination of the Premier League, it appears their rivals, Manchester City’s season is still far from over.
Pep Guardiola’s men have every intention of riding into the sunset with silverware. The razzmatazz of the former English champions not only gave us a reading of what lies ahead next season, but also the toe end of this.
Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid were left reeling, like a prizefighter reaching for the edge of the turnbuckle for support from his staff, looking longingly, through blurred vision, for the white towel.
Zidane’s tactics were quaking like loose knees, early on. It wasn’t a case of stage fright as much as it was about the relentless energy of City’s spiel. If this was a rap battle, it wouldn’t even go beyond the first round. But excruciatingly for Madrid, the fact remained that football is played for 90 minutes.
The fruits of the loom came early as if to punctuate the dominance, with a ninth-minute goal from Raheem Sterling. The other goal that capped off the City performance was scored by Gabriel Jesus towards the last quarter of the match. Karim Benzema’s goal was sandwiched between was merely riposte that made the hosts more intent.
World Cup winner, and one of the finest young defenders in the game, Raphael Varane was made to look like as he was on training wheels, and was responsible for both the Manchester City goals.
The French defender was dallying with the ball in a dangerous area as if exchanging pleasantries with his neighbour/goalkeeper, Courtois. Gabriel Jesus duly slinked in and squared the ball off to Raheem Sterling to plant it home.
Benzema stooped to mail a header into the City net, from a hanging cross dispatched by Rodrygo. The mercurial young Brazilian, who has been one the highlights of Real’s campaign, left an imaginary trail of fire past Joao Cancelo to hang that ball up.
However, Eden Hazard played like a high-profile featured artist on a hip-hop track that merely delivers the ad-libs and none of the bars. You’d forget that this Madrid team had, in recent memory won back-to-back Champions League titles, and are the record holders of 13 Champions League trophy wins.
The fact that the Merengues wrapped their fingers around this season LaLiga, their 34th domestic title, perhaps is an indication of how far the once European football superpower, Spain, has fallen off the menu, in terms of desirability and appetite for world’s finest players.
There was a stink of complacency in the pre-match preparations of Real. Attitudes relaxed since their domestic title win, while City’s appetite was howling. The 4-3-3 adopted by Zidane left Madrid’s midfield awash, like riverbanks are when the levee finally breaks. The all-attack City midfield of Gundogan, DeBruyne, Rodri appeared and disappeared in front of them, like ducks diving in the waterline - bobbing into the surface and then appearing in the different part of the river altogether. By comparison, the heavy knees Kroos, and a slowing Modric (yellow carded, to add insult to his age) were like apples in a barrel. The 34-year-old Croatian could opt to look for more relaxed climes next season.
City’s Foden and Raheem Sterling mingled freely with the free-wheeling flute-player of Pep’s attacking orchestra, DeBruyne, and the overall response between their forward line and midfield was almost pneumatic. Real Madrid’s attacking full-back, Ferland Mendy in a daze, didn’t know which way’s right by the end of the night. Many believe this partnership of Sterling-Foden is going finally end England’s international trophy drought. Not many would disagree after last night.
Pep Guardiola had this to say about City’s giant-slaying act: “It is important. For Real Madrid to beat a big team in the last 16 is normal. For us, if we are going to be champion we have to beat these teams. This is important for our season and for our future. It is similar to when we beat Barcelona in the knockout stage. We don’t have a lot of presence in Europe so it is so important for the club, for all the workers at the club and for our supporters.”
With this result, Manchester City would go onto face the winner of the other match of the night in the quarter-finals.
Juventus 2 - Lyon 1 (2-2 on aggregate, Lyon advance on away goals)
Manchester City had set the night’s tone.
Elsewhere in the other round of 16 game, Lyon felled Italian giants Juventus to meet Manchester City in the one-legged quarter-finals in Lisbon. Two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t enough to pull through a desperate Juventus. The highlight of the game was the Portuguese captain’s long-range thunder-thump from 30-yards away.
Lyon are no minnows. Their quarter-final opponent’s manager, Pep Guardiola is fully aware of the challenges the French side pose. When learning about the result from the other game, he commented: “Last season we played Lyon twice and we could not beat them. We have to be calm.”
Like Real Madrid, there again was a sense of late urgency in Juventus. The Italian champions were surprised, like an over-confident student who studies on the bus, on the way to school, believing that he’ll ace the test, but only to find out, the syllabus was updated and he didn’t pay attention.
Juventus, also an ageing side like Real, are suffering from the lowest end of a high crest.
Lyon’s Memphis Depay celebrated his 12th-minute penalty goal with fingers very pointedly plugged into his cheers, as if to say to his naysayers, “you can keep talking, I’ll keep scoring.” The Dutchman is having a somewhat of a rebirth in terms of realising his potential, that has been indentured by regular muscle injuries. He was coming back from one on the lead-up to this match. His compatriot, Gini Wijnaldum, put up a welcome back post on Instagram as a warning sign to his friend’s doubters. The hype-up was worth it. He dinked the keeper, ball tucked into the middle.
Juventus’ Rodrigo Bentancur sliding tackle was at fault in the box according to the referee. This was a result of the constant pressure Lyon build on the left side of the field, with the help of Houssem Aouar - a name you’ll hear very often in the near future.
Ever since the first goal, it was almost a Sisyphean task for Juventus, one which the modern-day football’s Hercules, the chiselled Cristiano Ronaldo almost made possible. Memphis Depay, who so often in his story turns from the protagonist to the antagonist, was at fault for a handball in the box. Cristiano duly placed it in low-right into the corner, on the 43rd minute.
On the 60th minute, Aouar had the privilege to have the sideway view of watching Cristiano turn back the years, and unleash a bolt from the blue. But Lyon’s form on the night was more stunning.
Lyon up until this game displayed a botchy form in Ligue 1, and was their first competitive game in five months. That should give Manchester City some food for thought.
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