Real Madrid vs Manchester City was never going to be decided by the first leg, and even less so after it finished 1-1 at the Bernabéu. Vinícius and Kevin de Bruyne traded long-range strikes, each beating their national team goalkeepers, which was just one of the many interesting aspects of this first leg. Below, we answer three pre-match questions we had and three new post-match debates too.
1. Would this tie live up to the hype?
Without wanting to show the two Milanese sides too much disrespect, this tie feels like it’s the final of the competition. It feels like one of the biggest Champions League semi-finals in years, and that’s how it was billed. The reigning champions and kings of Europe against probably the most in-form side in Europe. So, would it live up to the hype? Well, when you just look at the Vinícius and Kevin de Bruyne goals, we got the quality we were looking for. Perhaps it was more of a chess match than the heavyweight boxing match many neutrals were hoping for, but it was truly gripping entertainment and we have 90 more minutes to come.
2. How defensive would Ancelotti go?
When listening to Carlo Ancelotti’s pre-match press conference, it was quite clear that the Italian was thinking about going ultra defensive. When he explained that the worst that can happen if you go ultra defensive and if you execute well is a goalless draw, it seemed this could be his plan. And, so it was in the first half. By the midway stage of the first half, Los Blancos had barely crossed the halfway line. They’d barely left their own third and didn’t seem to want to. As the fans whistled the City players as they just knocked the ball around and around, you felt it could be a long night. But, then Real Madrid did Real Madrid things. They got the transition opportunity you knew they would at some point and Vinícius produced an epic strike for the ages to lift the still-in-construction roof off the Bernabéu and to change the entire dynamic of the tie. From there, everything changed as Manchester City went quicker and sloppier at the same time, giving Real Madrid even more space in behind. In the second half, Real Madrid actually had more possession, much more at 57 percent, and the better chances too. And, that all started from that game-changing Vinícius goal.
3. How would the full-backs cope with City’s width?
The potential weakness most Madridistas were worried about was at the two full-back spots, for very different reasons. On one side, Carvajal is not the player he once was and has been exposed in certain games this season, and he was up against an in-form and physical Jack Grealish. On the other, Camavinga isn’t a natural full-back and was going up against the trickery of Bernardo Silva. Yet, both handled their assignments excellently, in different ways too. Carvajal fought Grealish with aggression, sometimes too much. Camavinga, despite being so isolated, was able to do his job with his precise scissor tackles and, of course, get forward enough too to make the difference at the other end with the assist for the goal.
1. Had Vinícius ever scored a goal like that before?
So, that Vinícius goal… That is already one of the all-time Champions League strikes, for the importance of the tie, for the way it changed the game and for the pure wow factor. We’ve seen Vinícius score many good goals, but had we quite seen an outside-the-box strike like that? Well, with the star-covered Champions League ball, no. That was Vini’s 15th Champions League goal in his career, but his first from outside of the area. Even in LaLiga, he only has four out of 30 goals from outside the box. If he can add that to his arsenal, defenders have even more reason to fear a match-up with the Brazilian.
2. Can Vinícius win the 2023 Ballon d’Or?
Let’s stay with Vinícius here and with just how good he has been this season. After last season’s breakout campaign, he already has more goals and assists this term. His progression has continued and, as mentioned above, it’s especially scary if he can now add outside-the-box thunderbolts to his game. Is he already at Ballon d’Or-winning level? He might just be. We all know that the Ballon d’Or usually goes to a Champions League winner and, if Los Blancos do go on to retain the trophy, then it’d be his title just as much as Benzema’s. That could be enough for a Ballon d’Or, but let’s see what Erling Haaland – who was kept quiet here – has to say in the second leg.
3. Would you make any changes to the line-up for the second leg?
We now have just eight days until the second leg in England next Wednesday night. Real Madrid can rotate if they want against Getafe at home on Saturday and then field the exact same starting XI for the second leg but with the return of Éder Militão from suspension. Would you make any changes beyond that? Kroos as the defensive pivot still scares some, but he did better tonight than most fans expected. Perhaps Fede Valverde could be one to drop out if you really wanted to change things up, but Ancelotti will probably look to keep this exactly the same at the Etihad, where this tie is so finely poised.