Tonight`s game saw the Champions of England playing the Champions of Spain as Mancini`s charges journeyed to The Santiago Bernabéu to face their sternest test yet in the Champion`s League. Facing a team that had never lost an opening Champion`s League fixture and boasted a massive 169 more games in the competition than City. Indeed Real Madrid had won 40 of their 42 opening fixtures, drawing the other two. Statistics aside, Real were not looking the dynamic force in the League that they were last season having already fallen 8 points behind Barcelona, whilst City were still unbeaten. This was City`s first ever competitive game against the Spanish Champions and Real had not fared well against English opposition winning only two out of their last seven.
With the team recovering from their physical mauling away at Stoke, Mancini made a couple of changes, with Lescott and Sinclair dropping to the bench and Barry and Nastasic coming in. The team sheet read as follows; Hart, Maicon, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy, Yaya, Barry, Garcia, Silva, Nasri and Tevez. The bench consisted of; Pantillimon, Lescott, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Rodwell, Aguero and Dzeko. So a baptism of fire for new boy Nastasic as he makes his debut for the club in the Champion`s League away at Real Madrid?Mancini must really fancy his playing abilities and be worried about Lescott`s pace. Another point of not is the inclusion of Barry and Garcia meaning Yaya could move forward to play a full game sat just behind the strikers.
The game kicked off with City playing right to left and Real immediately found possession and simply held onto the ball. The opening minutes were dominated by the team in white as each time a City player went for the ball it was already on its way elsewhere.
In the second minute Ronaldo left Maicon for dead and drilled a powerful shot just wide of Hart`s post. This was going to be a key battle and after his pasting by Bale when playing for Inter, many were surprised Mancini didn`t select Zabaleta.
Four minutes later after almost total domination, Madrid fired in another shot, again by Ronaldo and again just wide of Hart`s post. The Blues couldn`t get near the Madrid players as there pace, movement and passing were just out of this world.
Madrid nearly had their breakthrough in the 8th minute as Ronaldo again fired in a wonderful shot after once again beating Maicon and cutting in from the left only for Joe Hart to save it one handed and push it round his post.
Another shot from Ronaldo four minutes later after beating Maicon again but Hart was on hand again to push the ball out into play. Luckily for City there were no men in White shirts on hand to put the ball away.
Thirteen minutes in and neat interplay between Nasri, Yaya and Silva work the ball into a promising position but Silva is upended by the centre half and the game is played on by the referee. This was the first real attacking play by City.
With cheers of Blue Moon ringing out around the Spanish stadium, as the fans tried to rouse their heroes, Madrid were having none of it. They continued to attack in droves as City fell deeper and deeper into their own half. Next it was Higuan who broke the offside trap in the 20th minute but Hart was on hand again to save City from a real drubbing. Ronaldo fired in the rebound but City cleared their lines once more.
As we approached the half hour mark, the game had been all one way. City had defended, Madrid attacked and Hart had performed heroically to keep the score even. Had it not been for the City stopper the score could have been 3 or 4 nil within thirty minutes.
A run by Yaya aside, by the time Nasri limped out of the game on the 36th minute and was replaced by Kolarov, City had shown none of their attacking prowess and merely displayed a rear guard action. Something had to change.
Yaya`s runs were beginning to become a feature of the game as in the 40th minute, he shrugged off two markers and played a ball into Silva, but it went just behind the Spaniard. City were beginning to edge into the game but as the half drew to a close, it was Madrid who nearly opened the scoring as Di Maria unleashed a trade mark rocket which flew just wide of the City post.
So a first half totally dominated by the home side. The Blues didn`t look overawed, nervous or shocked; they were simply out manoeuvred, out passed and out played. Had it not been for the special talent that is Joe Hart, the game could have been over by half time.
The second half began as the first had finished with the home side on the front foot and City`s first attack of the second 45 was on the left as Kolarov was set free. His touch was woeful and the ball went out of play, when a good touch could well have created a striking chance.
First yellow of the game was awarded to Garcia as his tackle was deemed dangerous, although he clearly took the ball first and the player he tackled went over his trailing leg.
Three minutes later and Yaya again broke free of his marker unleashing a shot which was deflected wide for a corner. Garcia once again out leapt everyone, but this time his marker had enough of his shirt to affect Garcia`s contact with the ball and the header went over the bar.
Madrid were getting into their stride again as Clichy was forced to rescue City with a clearance from Marcelo`s low driven cross. The Blues were really struggling to retain the ball as they failed to cope with the high tempo play of the home side.
In the 61st minute Silva earnt a free kick on the City left after being felled by Varane. How the Madrid player didn`t get a yellow for this challenge I don`t know. Madrid dealt easily with the ensuing set play and then Mancini made his second change of the game as Dzeko replaced Silva and the Spaniard enjoyed a standing ovation from the home crowd.
By the 65th minute City were beginning to retain possession and were passing the ball around neatly and crisply, retaining possession and probing for openings. For the first time in the game they were looking Madrid`s equal and in the 69th minute after a period of possession, Yaya played Dzeko in on the edge of the Madrid box. The lanky Bosnian held off his marker and stroked the ball past the advancing Casillas. One nil to City totally against the run of the game, but Mancini would take that as his substitution had an immediate impact.
In the 74th minute three more subs entered the fray as Benzema and Modric replaced Higuan and Khedira for Real and Zabaleta replaced Maicon for the Blues.
A minute later and it was all even as Zabaleta followed his man out of position and Real worked the ball out wide to Marcelo who cut inside past Kompany and unleashed an unstoppable shot which to a deflection on the way in to beat Hart hands down. No fault for Hart, but Garcia should have been on hand to back up his centre half and he simply didn`t react quickly enough.
City nearly scored once again straight from kick off but as their attack fizzled out, so Real were rushing down the pitch to attack Hart`s goal, this time in the form of blast from Alonso, which Hart clutched to his chest before releasing a counter attack.
City were playing 5-3-2 now with Kolarov and Zabaleta wide and Clichy, Kompany and Nastasic in the centre. Mancini was desperate to come away from the game with something and was in a position to do so despite the first half mauling handed out by the home side.
In the 82nd minute City earnt another corner as Tevez chased down yet another lost cause and winning the ball played it to Dzeko. The ball was cleared, but City had their dander up in the closing minutes and Tevez earnt his side another corner after barging his way through the Madrid defence only to see the ball cleared.
In the 85th minute City earnt a free kick on their right about thirty yards out. Kolarov put a swinging free kick in high toward goal. The ball seemed to elude everyone and somehow made it`s way into the Madrid net. The Blues had done the unthinkable and were 2-1 up with only five minutes to go.
The lead though only lasted 120 seconds as in almost their next attack, Benzema worked a space for himself and drilled in a low drive which nestled in the very corner of the net an inch from Hart`s hand and an inch from the post. No fault to Hart here as the shot was perfectly positioned, but the two centre halves should have done much more to close down Benzema as he took his shot.
City looked to attack straight from kick off but it was the home side who nearly went ahead as Ronaldo this time on the right blasted another shot at Hart`s goal. City`s number 1 did well to push the ball round the post.
The winning goal came as the 89th minute drew to a close and it was that man Ronaldo who this time on the left beat Zabaleta and unleashed a low drive toward goal. Despite being in the line of fire, Kompany somehow left the ball to his keeper instead of clearing it, yet Hart unsighted by his Captain was in no position to save. A bad mistake by Kompany that had cost City a point.
Real played out the final three minutes of injury time and despite ninety seconds of celebrations, the ref deigned to end the game on exactly three minutes.
This had been one of the most sensational Champion`s League games in recent history. Despite total domination in the first half Real found themselves a goal down with five minutes to go but still won the game. City were valiant and determined during the game, but individual errors at vital times cost City what looked like being an eye catching three points and then a respectable point. Hart looked distraught in the post-match interview and so he should be. Winners don`t expect anything less but in a few days he will look back a draw a lot of positives from a scintillating game of football. Once more City find themselves involved in a game with a script you just couldn`t write.
Joe Hart – 9
His best performance in a City shirt. Single handedly kept City in it in the first half. Not at fault for any of the goals.
Maicon – 6
Couldn’t cope with Ronaldo and offered little protection from his wide player.
Kompany – 7
At fault for the final goal when he should have blocked the shot, but otherwise a good performance.
Nastasic – 7
Looked confident and assured on the ball and not scared to throw himself into danger. An exciting prospect.
Clichy – 6
Couldn’t cope with Di Maria and then Ronaldo. Looked better when Kolarov came on to offer more protection.
Barry – 7.5
Did a lot of un-noticed work and broke up the Real play especially in the second half.
Garcia – 7
Should have been quicker to block the second Real goal but otherwise did a reasonable job in midfield.
Yaya – 8
As he got into gear and started carrying the ball he looked excellent. Was the main reason along with Tevez (and the introduction of Dzeko) that City went ahead.
Nasri – 6
Another poor game and went off injured in the first half. City improved noticeably soon after.
Silva – 7
Still not back to his best but looked good when he got on the ball.
Tevez – 8
Chased and harried and worked as hard as he could for City. A manager’s dream when he is playing like this.
Kolarov – 7.5
Scored a goal and tightened up the side. City’s fortunes improved when he got on the pitch.
Dzeko – 7.5
Scored a great goal showing good strength and decision making. Helped City hold the ball up when it was delivered up front.
Looked great going forward but two goals came from his area of the pitch and both time he simply wasn’t there.
Mancini – 8
He cannot be faulted for his tactics or his belief in his players. On another night he could have won this game, despite the first half dominance of Madrid. He is learning all the time and was part of one of the best Champion’s League games in modern times.