Manchester City beat Real Madrid 2 - 1 (Sterling, Jesus; Benzema) and 4 - 2 on aggregate to eliminate Zidane’s men from the Champions League. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, tactical review, post-game quotes, and plenty more.
As prophesied, Manchester City displayed all the tactical wrinkles they’re known for: Pressing, counter-pressing, incisive passing, and a high-line dance there for the taking.
Only their high line never got to be punished, as they defended high up the pitch — as far as Real Madrid’s penalty box, and got in the heads of Real Madrid’s defenders and ball-carriers. Zidane’s men could not find a way to cross their half-way line consistently. Without Ramos and Marcelo, Real Madrid had a drop in press-resistancy. Isco was missing too, and with Kroos and Modric not dropping deep to help escape the press, Casemiro suffered — hounded by blue shirts every time he got the ball.
Perhaps most frustrating was that Real Madrid undid themselves. Sure — City’s press was great. But was it good enough for Varane to make two shocking mistakes the way he did? Uncharacteristically, Varane couldn’t deal with two high-stake sequences:
Those were the two mistakes that went punished, but in truth, it would be a discredit to Manchester City to reduce it to just two Varane mistakes. This was a massacre. The scoreline perhaps made it seem closer than it was. Real Madrid were in it in principle, but they were conceding waves of chances, counter-pressing, and they looked uncomfortable for the entirety of this game.
Even in the second half, there was little answer to City’s press. Zidane made his first change in the 61st minute — bringing in Asensio for Rodrygo in a like-for-like swap. Asensio, almost immediately, made a run centrally off of City’s high line, and gave Benzema a chance on goal. There wasn’t a whole lot of danger outside of that. Zidane kept the scheme all the way through to the 80th minute (when he brought on Jovic, Vazquez, and Valverde). He did not react — trusted the process, and died by it.
Here is Real Madrid’s consolation goal, where Rodrygo (a quiet performance overall outside of this great assist) does well to find Benzema in the first half:
This was a disappointing performance, individually, collectively, and tactically. A bitter way to end the season. We’ll break this down further on tonight’s post-game podcast.