Manchester City produced a stunning late fightback as goals from Gabriel Jesus and Kevin de Bruyne secured a memorable 2-1 win at Real Madrid to take control of their Champions League last-16 tie.
After a cagey first half, the hosts capitalised on a defensive mix-up between Rodri and Nicolas Otamendi to take the lead as the impressive Vinicius Junior raced towards goal before neatly squaring for Isco to slot home.
Sergio Ramos shot over as Real Madrid looked to double their advantage but City equalised 12 minutes before time when Jesus nodded in from close range.
It was the least City deserved for what had been an impressive away performance by Pep Guardiola’s side and things got even better seven minutes from time when substitute Raheem Sterling was brought down inside the box and De Bruyne stepped home to confidently convert from the spot.
It got even worse for Real Madrid when they were reduced to 10 men with five minutes remaining. Ramos brought down Jesus as he ran through on goal and the defender was shown a red card.
It was the first time City had beaten Real Madrid in the Champions League and means they are in the driving seat before the second leg at the Etihad on Tuesday, 17 March.
The win will have been all the more welcome for City fans after their side were earlier this month banned from European club competitions for the next two years.
The club’s appeal against the decision has been registered by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and the issue will continue to overshadow their immediate future, but this display in Madrid will give them hope of progressing far in the current campaign.
Pep’s plan pays off
This was a hugely impressive result for Manchester City and one for which Guardiola deserved a large amount of credit after he sprung a surprise with his team selection.
The former Barcelona boss left Sterling, Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Fernandinho all on the bench and instead utilised Bernardo Silva and De Bruyne as alternating false nines in what appeared to be a very cautious City formation.
But it was a tactic that successfully nullified a Real Madrid side that has historically been so strong in the knockout stages of the Champions League and had not lost their 12 previous knockout games under Zinedine Zidane.
The hosts were limited to one decent chance in the first half – when Ederson saved superbly from Karim Benzema’s header – while City’s threat on the counter increased as the half went on.
City looked like the most likely to score as the game wore on but all their good work threatened to be undone when Real pounced on a rare defensive error from City.
But, to the visitors’ credit, they fought back strongly despite that setback and the introduction of Sterling proved pivotal as the forward provided a different outlet for City as they turned the game around.
In the end they could have perhaps won by more – with Ramos preventing Jesus from getting his second – but two away goals puts Guardiola’s side in a strong position to reach the quarter-finals and keep them on track to end their wait for Champions League success.
Real Madrid out-thought and out-fought
Real Madrid are the Champions League’s most successful club with 13 titles and they have been particularly strong under Zidane.
The former France international guided Los Blancos to three consecutive titles in his first spell in charge of the club between 2016 and 2018, while he had won all 12 previous knockout ties he had overseen as a manager.
Their form heading into this match had been patchy with just one win in their previous four games in all competitions, while they were beaten 1-0 by Levante at the weekend.
But despite taking the lead against City, they were never truly in control of the game at any period as they first struggled to break down their opponents before falling apart when the visitors took the game to them.
This was the first time Guardiola and Zidane – rivals in their playing days for Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively – had gone to head-to-head as managers and it was the former who came out on top.
Laporte blow only disappointment for City
The one sour point on the night for City was the loss of defender Aymeric Laporte to injury in the first half.
The defender was making only his fourth appearance since recovering from a serious knee injury that had kept him out for much of the season but pulled up with just over half an hour gone and was replaced by Fernandinho.
Laporte was able to make his own way off the pitch, giving City reason to be optimistic that his absence will not be a long one.
“After five months injured in this scenario it’s so demanding,” Guardiola said.
“Fernandinho came in and did incredibly well. I’m so proud.”