Manchester City produced a stunning late fightback as goals from Gabriel Jesus and Kevin de Bruyne secured a memorable 2-1 win at Real Madrid to take control of their Champions League last-16 tie.
After a cagey first half, the hosts capitalised on a defensive mix-up between Rodri and Nicolas Otamendi to take the lead as the impressive Vinicius Junior raced towards goal before neatly squaring for Isco to slot home.
Sergio Ramos shot over as Real Madrid looked to double their advantage but City equalised 12 minutes before time when Jesus nodded in from close range.
It was the least City deserved for what had been an impressive away performance by Pep Guardiola’s side and things got even better seven minutes from time when substitute Raheem Sterling was brought down inside the box and De Bruyne stepped home to confidently convert from the spot.
It got even worse for Real Madrid when they were reduced to 10 men with five minutes remaining. Ramos brought down Jesus as he ran through on goal and the defender was shown a red card.
It was the first time City had beaten Real Madrid in the Champions League and means they are in the driving seat before the second leg at the Etihad on Tuesday, 17 March.
The win will have been all the more welcome for City fans after their side were earlier this month banned from European club competitions for the next two years.
The club’s appeal against the decision has been registered by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and the issue will continue to overshadow their immediate future, but this display in Madrid will give them hope of progressing far in the current campaign.
Pep’s plan pays off
This was a hugely impressive result for Manchester City and one for which Guardiola deserved a large amount of credit after he sprung a surprise with his team selection.
The former Barcelona boss left Sterling, Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Fernandinho all on the bench and instead utilised Bernardo Silva and De Bruyne as alternating false nines in what appeared to be a very cautious City formation.
But it was a tactic that successfully nullified a Real Madrid side that has historically been so strong in the knockout stages of the Champions League and had not lost their 12 previous knockout games under Zinedine Zidane.
The hosts were limited to one decent chance in the first half – when Ederson saved superbly from Karim Benzema’s header – while City’s threat on the counter increased as the half went on.
City looked like the most likely to score as the game wore on but all their good work threatened to be undone when Real pounced on a rare defensive error from City.
But, to the visitors’ credit, they fought back strongly despite that setback and the introduction of Sterling proved pivotal as the forward provided a different outlet for City as they turned the game around.
In the end they could have perhaps won by more – with Ramos preventing Jesus from getting his second – but two away goals puts Guardiola’s side in a strong position to reach the quarter-finals and keep them on track to end their wait for Champions League success.
Real out-thought and out-fought
Real Madrid are the Champions League’s most successful club with 13 titles and they have been particularly strong under Zidane.
The former France international guided Los Blancos to three consecutive titles in his first spell in charge of the club between 2016 and 2018, while he had won all 12 previous knockout ties he had overseen as a manager.
Their form heading into this match had been patchy with just one win in their previous four games in all competitions, while they were beaten 1-0 by Levante at the weekend.
But despite taking the lead against City, they were never truly in control of the game at any period as they first struggled to break down their opponents before falling apart when the visitors took the game to them.
This was the first time Guardiola and Zidane – rivals in their playing days for Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively – had gone to head-to-head as managers and it was the former who came out on top.
Laporte blow only disappointment for City
The one sour point on the night for City was the loss of defender Aymeric Laporte to injury in the first half.
The defender was making only his fourth appearance since recovering from a serious knee injury that had kept him out for much of the season but pulled up with just over half an hour gone and was replaced by Fernandinho.
Laporte was able to make his own way off the pitch, giving City reason to be optimistic that his absence will not be a long one.
“After five months injured in this scenario it’s so demanding,” Guardiola said.
“Fernandinho came in and did incredibly well. I’m so proud.”
Man of the match – Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)
‘This is just the first part’ – what they said
Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro: “The tie isn’t finished with this result. We played 75 spectacular minutes against a great team.
“Then in just 15 minutes we didn’t do any of what he should have done. That’s why they fought back and cancelled out our lead. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us now.
“If there’s any team capable of overcoming this deficit in the second leg it’s Real Madrid.”
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola to BT Sport: “We tried to come here to win the game and we did. This is just the first part. If one team can overcome this situation, it’s this club.
“When we were better, we conceded a goal. When they were better, we scored a goal. That’s football. I remember the quarter-final [against Liverpool] a few seasons ago at Anfield when we played incredibly well and they scored all their shots on target.”
Pep joins a club of two – the stats
- Manchester City have beaten Real Madrid for the first time in their history.
- Real Madrid have lost a Champions League home match despite scoring the opening goal for just the second time, also losing in this manner against AC Milan in October 2009.
- Kevin de Bruyne scored his 50th goal in all competitions for Manchester City. This was the first time he has both scored and assisted in a Champions League match.
- City boss Guardiola is only the second manager to win two Champions League away games against Real Madrid, after Ottmar Hitzfeld. He is the first to do so with two different clubs.
- Real Madrid’s Isco scored his first goal in the knockout stages of the Champions League since netting against Atletico Madrid in the semi-final second leg in May 2017.
- Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos received his fourth Champions League red card – only Edgar Davids and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have as many (both four).
- Guardiola has now won more Champions League knockout-stage matches than any other manager in the history of the competition (28).
- Karim Benzema became the sixth player to make 100 appearances for Real Madrid in the Champions League, after Iker Casillas (150), Raul (130), Sergio Ramos (124), Roberto Carlos (107) and Cristiano Ronaldo (101).
Manchester City will now switch their attention to the Carabao Cup final as they take on Aston Villa at Wembley on Sunday, 1 March (16:30 GMT).