Manchester City and Real Madrid played out a cagey 0-0 draw in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final at The Etihad Stadium. Cristiano Ronaldo travelled with the rest of the Madrid squad but was not deemed fit enough to even make the bench. With the tie for a place in the final delicately poised heading into the return leg at the Bernabeu. Here are five things we learned from the clash:
- Karim Benzema was not fit
As well as Ronaldo Benzema was also a doubt to be fit. Manager Zinedine Zidane opted to roll the dice and start the French forward only for him to be replaced by Jese at half time. Benzema looked slugging in the Manchester City penalty area and his one half chance, a shot on the turn, was bended clear over Joe Hart’s crossbar. The Frenchman limited the Real Madrid attack and was clearly not fit enough to be his usual deadly self. The big question now is will he be fit for Madrid’s home leg next week.
- City did not take advantage of Madrid’s lack of creativity
While Benzema did hinder any Madrid creativity, Ronaldo being out was another huge factor in Real Madrid’s lack of creative flair. Such individual brilliance can turn games on their head and Madrid started to look lost for ideas in the second half as their brilliant winger looked on unimpressed from the sidelines.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side had a real chance to attack Madrid and not worry so much about the counter attacking threat. A Gung Ho approach was not to be advised but a more freedom would have been welcome. Perhaps City’s inexperience during the latter stages of the Champions League caused them to ease off slightly but there were several chances in that game to edge ahead in the tie and if Ronaldo and Benzema are fully fit for the return leg it could come back to haunt City.
- Madrid respect Man City
Such an experienced campaigner in the latter stages of the competition Real Madrid may have been complacent against such a rookie in the final four. However Zidane’s men showed Sergio Aguero and company a lot of respect often sitting eight or nine men behind the ball when Man City got circulation of the ball in a controlled flow.
Madrid did have their chances but a solid defensive display was the top order of business for Zidane and an away goal was a bonus. Madrid started to grow into the game after the break with Pepe having a solid game at centre half and Modric pulling some of the strings in midfield. There is no doubt Real will be more aggressive in the return leg.
- It makes Pellegrini think for the return leg
Madrid will want to be aggressive at home and will hope to have Ronaldo raiding down the flanks but for Pellegrini it will give him something to think about when he comes to his team selection and tactics for the test in Spain. David Silva hobbled out of the game in the first half for Kelechi Iheanacho. Iheanacho’s pace could be used to effect should Silva be unavailable for the second leg.
Equally City could be aggressive in their own way as throughout the first leg they created the better chances with Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero both going close. Although Pepe’s glorious chance towards the end of the game may give City an air of caution.
- Manchester City are hungry
While their Premier League title charge has fizzled out and they look to consolidate third spot. City have remained hungry in the Champions League and turned in a dogged display. City pressed hard and hassled Madrid not allowing Luka Modric too many opportunities to impact the game from midfield and isolating Benzema and later Jese.
While they did not throw numbers forward recklessly they did attack with options. When they breached the Madrid penalty area their end product was not at its best but they showed no signs of frustration and stayed disciplined. Not their prettiest performance but an effective one which sees them on the brink of the final. Beating PSG in the quarter finals looks to have instilled belief into Pellegrini’s side that they can lift the trophy inside the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in May.