Goals from Gabriel Jesus and Kevin de Bruyne cancelled out Isco's opener, as Manchester City delivered a second-half fightback to beat Real Madrid and return home with a slender but important advantage ahead of the UCL last-16 second leg at the Etihad on March 17.
At the fifth time of asking, Manchester City have finally beaten Real and this represents a vital victory at a critical juncture in their campaign. They face Aston Villa in the League Cup Final this weekend and given the ongoing suspension dispute with UEFA, the Citizens desperately needed a show of defiance with important fixtures between now and May.
There were some eyebrows raised an hour before kick-off, as Pep Guardiola named a starting eleven far from his strongest one at the Bernabeu. It was clear he had one thing on his mind: keep a clean sheet and hunt for an away goal.
Fernandinho, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero were all among a very strong substitutes' bench for the visitors - while Zidane left Toni Kroos' wealth of experience on the bench, alongside Marcelo, Gareth Bale and others. Real enjoyed possession aplenty but were largely ponderous in more dangerous areas, besides energy bursts from Vinicius Jr.
de Bruyne combined well with Jesus in transition, as the pair exchanged key passes to create promising chances: Jesus forcing Thibaut Courtois into an important save early on, before de Bruyne flashed a snapshot wide of his compatriot's far post.
Los Blancos' first and only true first-half opportunity fell the way of Karim Benzema, who reacted quickest to Ferland Mendy's cross and prompted a brilliant stop from Ederson. There was an unwelcome injury blow for City, as key centre-back Aymeric Laporte (muscle) limped off after the half-hour mark and was replaced by Fernandinho.
You could only begin to wonder how the Frenchman was feeling, after watching the manner in which his teammates went behind on the hour mark. Courtois made two big saves in quick succession to deny Riyad Mahrez, before Nicolas Otamendi and Rodri exchanged hospital passes in a dangerous area and possession was relinquished. Vinicius sped past Kyle Walker before feeding through Isco, who remained composed before slotting into the bottom corner.
Real sensed blood and created a few dangerous attacks as the match became more stretched, though Sterling and Bale were introduced in the final 15 minutes - with varying degrees of success. de Bruyne and Jesus combined once more, this time for the equaliser as the Brazilian shrugged off a backpedalling Sergio Ramos in the box to head past Courtois.
Two minutes later, referee Daniele Orsato awarded the visitors a penalty. Sterling advanced beyond Dani Carvajal, who slid in late and could have no complaints about the decision. de Bruyne stepped up and sent Courtois the wrong way to seal the comeback with aplomb.
Ramos was sent off, for the 26th time in his career late on as City pushed for another. As Jesus found himself through on-goal, the centre-back committed a subtle but clear foul and being the last man, had clearly denied a goalscoring opportunity. Without further ado though, here's a look at five hits and flops from a memorable encounter at the Bernabeu:
#5 Flop: Daniel Carvajal
This was a 90-minute spell that Daniel Carvajal will certainly want back, such was his frustratingly poor defensive display on this occasion.
Only Casemiro and Ederson had worse pass success percentages than his 76.6% over the 90 minutes, while he was dribbled past on three occasions - the same amount of blocks he completed. Uncomfortable and despite not receiving adequate support from teammates as the match wore on, that was still no excuse for the Spaniard's involvement in City's winner.
Raheem Sterling's introduction with 15 minutes to play proved a game-changer for Pep, as the Englishman - fresh from recent hamstring trouble - raced forward with purpose at every possible turn. Carvajal, who was already struggling, couldn't live with him.
Rather than stay on his feet, give away a corner or attempt to block Sterling's movement altogether, the Spaniard opted for a sliding challenge. When you commit to that, it needs to be inch-perfect to avoid any doubts about whether you got the ball, the man or otherwise.
That wasn't the case for Carvajal, who mistimed his challenge, hauled Sterling to ground before pointing at the ball as if to say, 'look ref, I played the ball!'. Nonetheless, his protests were futile, replays confirmed the same and Real's questionable defending under pressure now leaves them with a deficit to overturn next month.