The return of the UEFA Champions League saw two sides with contrasting fortunes in the competition and this season come together to begin the battle for a spot in the last eight. When the draw had put 13-time champions Real Madrid up against Manchester City, it had the footballing word smacking lips.
City came into the match on the back of a win in the Premier League against Leicester City while Real Madrid were looking to bounce back after a loss to Levante in La Liga. Pep Guardiola's men, however, were not in a title race, unlike their Spanish counterparts, who are running neck and neck with Barcelona.
City also have a two-year ban from all European competitions looming over their head so if Guardiola and Co. want to make a splash in the tournament, there is no time like the present.
The first half of the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu was somewhat of an entertaining affair. City started the game by pressing the hosts, who seemed to be regimented and hold their own. Zinedine Zidane's charges returned the favour and made it tough for City to play out of the back in the early exchanges.
Los Blancos looked the better side both with and without the ball, holding their shape well and denying Kevin De Bruyne his usual avenues to weave magic. The Belgian did influence the game whenever he could in the opening half and the first proper chance of the night came through him. A pass fed to Gabriel Jesus, who started ahead of Sergio Aguero, seemed destined for a goal before Thibaut Courtois made himself big to deny the Brazilian.
Minutes later, Benzema almost put Los Blancos in front with a stooping header. Ederson did well to get down and the rebound almost fell for Vinicius Jr., who couldn't stay on his feet to score from point-blank range.
The Cityzens took a big body blow when centre-back Aymeric Laporte picked up an injury close to the half-hour mark and was replaced by Fernandinho. They did, however, come close again at the stroke of half-time with a corner that was almost lashed in by Jesus, before Casemiro scratched it off the line.
City started the second half hungrier and played with a higher intensity, testing Courtois on multiple occasions but it was Zidane's side that took the lead, after a mistake from Nicolas Otamendi saw Vinicius race through and play the ball unselfishly for Isco to slot past Ederson on the hour mark.
Guardiola brought Sterling in to replace Bernando Silva and that changed the complexion of the game and the outcome. City persisted and were rewarded for their hard work with an equaliser from Jesus, who did just enough to get his head on the ball ahead of Sergio Ramos from a De Bruyne cross.
That strike and Sterling's introduction seemed to galvanise the English side, who turned up the ante and won a penalty, when Sterling was brought down by Dani Carvajal in the box. De Bruyne stepped up with ice in his veins to beat compatriot Courtois from 12 yards out to give City the upper hand.
The tie was well and truly turned on its head when Ramos was given his marching orders for bringing down Jesus on the edge of the Madrid box, with the latter clean through on goal. City held on to record a memorable win in the Spanish capital and will take a 2-1 advantage back to Manchester for the second leg.
With all that said and done, here are 3 talking points from the match between Los Blancos and the Cityzens.
#3 City show great resolve despite losing Laporte
It is no secret that Manchester City have not been at their defensive best this season and much of it has been to do with a dearth of proper centre-backs. Aymeric Laporte, who has missed a major chunk of the season with a knee injury, had to hobble off in the first half, leaving Guardiola to chop and change what is already not his ideal back-line.
Matters weren't made any easier by Nicolas Otamendi or Benjamin Mendy either, who were being caught off the ball by Real Madrid's high press. In fact, Isco's opener came through an Otamendi error.
However, City showed a lot of gumption to keep going at Madrid and were able to convert their good play into chances and score them. They were the better team in the second half and some would even argue that Madrid's goal was against the run of play, given how City were playing leading up to it.
#2 Gabriel Jesus is a man of many talents
Much has been made about Gabriel Jesus and how he stacks up against Manchester City's goal machine Sergio Aguero. The young Brazilian was on hand to save City in the league on the weekend and against Real Madrid, he really put in a shift and highlighted his many abilities.
Jesus started in the middle but would drift to the left when City weren't in possession. A forward by trade, Jesus was seen tracking back along the left flank to help Benjamin Mendy, before rushing forward to make up the numbers in attack when City tried to break.
Jesus was City's biggest threat in front of goal and the one who got the ball rolling for the comeback with his equaliser. He was also the man who got Sergio Ramos sent off. He was immensely influential on the night and could be key for City in the second leg too.
#3 Two away goals and no Ramos could break Real Madrid
Real Madrid seemed to have things in control until they weren't and now will have a mountain to climb in the second leg. Manchester City's two away goals could be crucial in the grand scheme of things and the fact that Sergio Ramos won't be available for selection could just tip the scales in their favour.
It is a known fact that both sides know where the goal is and don't have an airtight defence. Ramos is Zidane's most experienced defender and the skipper for that Madrid side, so it will be interesting to see how Los Blancos cope in his absence, especially when faced with City's attack.
City too will have their own defensive issues to look at. The jury is still out on Laporte's injury at the time of writing and a yellow card to Benjamin Mendy means that he too will miss the second leg. City will need to figure out how they line up at the back when they face Zidane's men but given the fact that they have two away goals, logic dictates that they will have the better chance of progressing to the quarter-finals.Published 27 Feb 2020, 04:23 IST