“Hasta el final” is a slogan that goes beyond being just a silly phrase when it comes to Real Madrid and European competitions. Wednesday night was another example of another magical night at the Santiago Bernabeu. Real Madrid clawed their way out of another seemingly impossible situation. With their backs again the wall, they always seem to find a way.
Real Madrid’s 2021-22 knockout campaign has been one wonder comeback after another.
City lined up in their traditional 4-3-3 with the biggest surprise of the lineup being the inclusion of Kyle Walker who had fitness concerns. Carlo Ancelotti made the choice of going with Fede Valverde on the right flank and Nacho started over an injured David Alaba in defense. With Casemiro’s return at the base of midfield, Madrid now had a screening presence protecting the defence.
Let’s take a look at what the numbers say about the game.
Game Flow and Threat creation
The game flow map perfectly sums up the game. A cagey affair in the first half where City largely looked the better of the two sides, they seemed to be able to shut down shop after going ahead until Madrid’s clutch gene kicked in. Even beyond that in the AET, City were able to muster opportunities only to be denied by the Belgian wall in Madrid’s goal, Thibaut Courtois. There was a heroic last ditch clearance off the line from Ferland Mendy as well to keep the tie within reach.
Madrid started the second half brightly and looked likely to get the equalizing goal to bring the tie level on aggregate. The biggest momentum swing in the favor of Real Madrid occurred around the 85th minute with the substitution of Fernandinho. This was the point when City moved into a double pivot and Madrid found space between the midfield two and front four to exploit. Rodrygo then brought things level in the 89th minute and Madrid capitalized quickly on the momentum and turned the tie around.
One could argue Madrid opted for a more chaotic/open game with their subs of Marco Asensio and Eduardo Camavinga in the 75th minute while chasing the game.
City dominated the ball largely with 53% of the possession but were able to maintain territory over the opposition with 60% field tilt in their favor. Madrid managed 185 attacking third touches overall in the game but were able to get into the box with 37 of them, whereas City recorded 236 touches in the final third with only 32 of them coming inside the 18 yard-box.
Looking at where both teams created the most threat from, we can notice some patterns. For Man City, the key area was “Zone 14”. City would drive into that space and then find a wide player coming inside, a pattern through which the goal was scored as well. With Jack Grealish’s introduction they were able to create danger from the left cutback zone using his take-on ability.
For Real Madrid, the two hotspots appear on the right side and one inside the box on the left by the byline (the spot where Karim Benzema assisted the first goal from). Real Madrid’s left side bias when it comes to chance creation has been evident throughout the season and on this occasion as well Vinicius was slid through a couple of times. The second goal came from a cross off the wide right zone near the touchline; an area that Madrid constantly targeted following the substitution of Oleksander Zinchenko in the game.
Ancelotti’s deployment of Valverde was as expected. The Uruguayan tucked in and mainly operated from the half-spaces leaving Madrid devoid of width on the right hand side. It wasn’t until Rodrygo Goes’s arrival when Ancelotti’s men started to find some width on that side. One positive about Valverde’s inclusion was the fact that it helped Madrid deal with the threat of Joao Cancelo moving forward as well as his movement in the half-space.
City’s pressing structure denied Madrid from having exchanges between the centerbacks, as can be seen with the lack of connection between the pair in the team’s passing network. The CBs were constantly forced into long balls with Nacho attempting 14 long balls and Eder Militao attempting 12. Militao was particularly devoid of options in these scenarios with the Brazilian completing only four of those 12 long balls.
Kyle Walker largely dealt with Vinicius Jr’s threat on the left with his recovery pace and kept him in check. He was slightly conservative when compared to Cancelo on the other flank and stayed in close proximity to Ruben Dias to keep things in check. Rodri Hernandez sat at the base with Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva dropping deep on either side to provide support to create tight connections when necessary.
This was a vintage performance from Dani Carvajal, who has gone from strength to strength since the turn of the year. He was brilliant defending the box and with his passing in the final third, created an opportunity early in the second half for Vinicius. He also played the cross into the box for the second goal which pushed the tie into AET.
Carvajal was relentless as well down the flank — constantly providing support on the overlap for Rodrygo. Grealish caused him some problems late on in the game but it was a solid performance from the Spaniard.
Bernardo Silva was omnipresent on the field. It almost felt as if there were multiple of him on the pitch at the same time. His defensive contribution was incredible but so was his contribution in the final third. He picked up the assist for City’s only goal of the night by driving into the vacant space in front of him between Madrid’s midfield and defensive lines in the final third. His ability in tight spaces was phenomenal, completing five of his seven take-ons.
Rodrygo is the new Mr. Champions League at Real Madrid currently. The Brazilian has been in a rich vein of form since April and has been scoring clutch goals in the UCL since debuting in the competition. His movements and positioning inside the box has been exceptional in recent weeks. He scored the brace that kick-started the momentum swing and brought Madrid back into the game. He could’ve almost had a hat-trick to seal the deal as well. His introduction helped Madrid have width on the right flank, thus stretching City’s backline.
Camavinga’s performance was exceptional, his ability to cover ground, recognize space, carry the ball, along with his quite unique yet effective tackling ability allowed Madrid to open up the game. His movement into the space on the right to receive the ball from Courtois and then drive the ball upwards was integral in the move that earned Madrid the decisive penalty.
Madrid will now face familiar foes in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in Paris for a shot at their 14th UCL title on the 28th of May.