The people were still filled with a game of epic breadth, the Colts were still smoking, so to speak, when Josep Guardiola was already preparing for the second leg. Because the place where his team, Manchester City Guardiola knows only too well that he will have to defend Tuesday’s insane 4:3 in the coming week.
The Catalan, who has been a coach in England for six years, was once a player and coach at FC Barcelona
Later also coach of FC Bayern Munich; his appraisal skills for games at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu could hardly be better. And so he knows that it can hardly be a question of already thinking about the final in Paris, whose door is just a little more open for City than for Madrid after this 4: 3. “Don’t think about the final!” he would tell his players, “make sure you put on a good performance and maybe that’s what will bring us closer to the final.”
On Tuesday, there wasn’t much room for improvement when it came to the game’s amusement factor. But when, if not now, should you bet that there will be another spectacle at the Bernabéu on Wednesday next week when it comes to qualifying for the Champions League final on May 28th?
He enjoyed the brilliant 4: 3 like any other spectator, says Guardiola
Madrid need to score two more goals than Manchester, turn knockouts; and City aren’t the best side when it comes to defending results. “The result doesn’t matter. Even if we were 2-0 or 3-0 ahead, we would have to go to the Bernabéu and play well,” Guardiola lectured: “Because either you are yourself there or you have no option.” So, in other words, it’s done.
Guardiola said he was proud of his team and enjoyed the game like any other spectator. But that didn’t quite fit his body language in the first 90 minutes. Contemplative moments of refreshment were less common than moments of anger, ecstasy, despair, joy. And afterwards, the smile he wore on his lips froze when the time came to answer questions from journalists in the Spanish capital. He was snappy, monosyllabic, sneering. He was asked what went through his head when he sat down on the cooler in the coaching zone after the penalty kick against City, angry at Aymeric Laporte’s handball. “I wanted to have a beer. But it was too warm,” he replied.
The penalty would have been worth not just a beer but a bottle of cava
His 82nd-minute execution was, in a sense, the final, enchanting spurt of a perpetually blazing game that deserved to be basted: Real Madrid captain Karim Benzema stepped up and he converted the penalty in the festively decorated stadium with a perfectly formed, subtle, cheeky lob, with which Madrid reduced it to 3:4 after all. Kicking a penalty à la Panenka after he’s already missed three penalties this month is something Benzema is probably the only one doing at the moment.
What already lay behind the two teams was a merciless struggle, an exchange of brutal blows to each other’s chins. But neither of the two opponents fell.
The blows, without claiming to be exhaustive, took place roughly as follows: real Madrid rebounded from a disastrous opening phase in which they fell behind after eleven minutes with goals from Kevin De Bruyne (2′) and Gabriel Jesús (11′) and came close through Benzema’s volley (33′) – basically just because Riyad Mahrez appeared alone in front of the goal and the ball not crossed Phil Foden, missed the chance to make it 3-0 through self-infatuation. And Real Madrid were also deterred by City’s next goals. Phil Foden’s 3-1 lead (53′) was followed by a goal from Real striker Vinícius (55′) to make it 2-3; the shot in the corner by Bernardo Silva (74th) was followed by Benzema’s Panenka feat from the point – to crown his 600th game for Real.
Real’s blatant mistakes in the first leg run through all parts of the team
What effect the goal had on City could also be read from Guardiola’s words. “I want to convince my players that we won the game and we need to keep our heads up,” said the Catalan. Which can only mean that they too were impressed by the way Madrid kept coming back.
There was indeed something supernatural, an inexplicability, and so it was only fair that Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti questioned whether Madrid’s historic weight, the 13 premier class titles, was being brought to bear. If Ancelotti hadn’t been raising his left eyebrow since the Pleistocene, this would have been the moment to arch it. “The characteristic of this team is that it has players with a lot of experience who never lose their heads in very difficult moments, never drop their arms,” answered Ancelotti. But: His team had also conceded four goals; by blatant mistakes that basically ran through all parts of the team.
Ancelotti made the young winger Vinícius really round
He let City’s full-back Fernandinho draw and cross at the 1:3; Vinícius duped his compatriot two minutes later and shortened, as I said. “If we defend better, we win,” said Ancelotti. Of course, Guardiola could have held a whole reading on defensive shortcomings. A replay of the ultra-defensive second half from the quarter-final second leg at Atlético Madrid, Guardiola scored a rebuff: “Then we have no option.”
Which is probably true. There will be no hotter temple than the Bernabéu next week. “The Bernabéu has work to do,” the newspaper headlined ace on Wednesday; she followed the calls of captain Benzema (“We need the fans like never before”) and coach Ancelotti. “You should get ready because we are going to fight for another magical night,” said the Italian.