How do you go from total perfection to utter disaster in 18 minutes? You can ask Manchester City and Pep Guardiola, but even they won’t have the answer.
The visitors looked like they were on cloud nine in the 73rd minute of the game at the Bernabeu and on their way to the Champions League final in Paris when Riyad Mahrez swept home at the near post after Bernardo Silva had lead a surging City breakaway.
They had held firm for most of the game in a fiery atmosphere away from home, against a side who failed to have a shot on target until the 90th minute. But as it turned out, a team as experienced as Real Madrid only need two opportunities to flip a game on its head in the biggest moments.
Even as the clock ticked down at one of the world’s most famous grounds, there was a feeling on the Madrid bench that they sensed a moment was coming – and all they had to do was seize it.
Rodrygo duly stepped up and delivered with two late strikes before Karim Benzema sealed their place at this month’s showpiece against Liverpool from the spot.
Sportsmail breaks down a dramatic encounter at the Santiago Bernabeu and where the game was won and lost.
Real Madrid looked dead and buried before pulling off a resurrection against Manchester City
City imploded at the Bernabeu with their Champions League final hopes brutally killed off
CITY FAIL TO FINISH IT OFF
Time after time – especially after Mahrez’s opener – Madrid looked totally open and there for the taking.
With Carlo Ancelotti’s men forced to push men forwards in search of an equaliser, they left themselves brutally exposed on the counter, with Bernardo Silva, Foden and Mahrez all looking dangerous any time Madrid gifted away possession.
On so many occasions this season City have been ruthless and devastating in attack – with 84 goals scored in the Premier League – only two less than Liverpool. But last night just served as a glaring sign that Guardiola is in desperate need of a hungry goalscorer who can gobble up the chances that City’s playmakers put on a plate.
The Premier League side looked dangerous throughout but could not finish off the game
Madrid found a way to win despite having no shots on goal before their 90th minute equaliser
Madrid have that in Karim Benzema, but Gabriel Jesus simply hasn’t cut the mustard this season. The arrival of Erling Haaland cannot come soon enough, and he will thrive off the creativity City produce.
In the first half, Silva, Foden and Jesus all had good chances to open the scoring and while they had controlled the game in the most part, they will be ruing how they failed to seize the initiative.
Mahrez’s goal to put them ahead was excellent but there were identical moments throughout the game where City had Madrid on toast but didn’t make them pay.
Madrid, on the other hand, showed the killer instinct necessary. They ended up with a superior expected goals (2.61), while City had 1.57 in stats from Opta – despite the Premier League side having double the amount of shots (10).
PEP’S DISASTER SUBS
Sometimes a manager can do no more than give his team the instructions, then it’s on them to ensure those instructions are carried out. And if they fail to do so, then the players have to take responsibility.
City’s game plan was solid for the most part – dominating possession and controlling the contest, but in the end Guardiola put pressure on himself by making some risky substitutions that did not pay off.
The Spaniard has been criticised for a number of gambles in the Champions League over the years that have squandered City’s chances of lifting the trophy they crave so dearly.
Guardiola has been criticised for taking off Kevin de Bruyne on minute 72 for Ilkay Gundogan – which left his side without much-needed creativity in midfield
He also came under fire for taking off Riyad Mahrez for defensive-minded Fernandinho
Whether it’s tactical tinkering, experimenting with new formations or playing last season’s final with no recognised defensive midfielder, fans have been frustrated with his decision making in the games that matter most.
Last night, more than a few eyebrows were raised when he opted to take off a player of De Bruyne’s class and quality on 72 minutes. This was with City still 4-3 up on aggregate, as he brought on Ilkay Gundogan instead – likely to bring a bit more control and steel to his midfield and help defend their lead.
Three minutes later, he must have been feeling pretty chuffed with his decision after Mahrez curled in the first goal of the contest.
And even without De Bruyne’s presence, City still retained their attacking verve as he brought on Jack Grealish, who really threatened and gave Madrid something to think about, but City fans will now be left wondering whether their man De Bruyne could have done what Rodrygo did and provide the match-winner.
Mahrez had netted the first goal and looked dangerous when City hit Madrid on the counter
That wasn’t the only substitution supporters will be aggrieved with. Mahrez, who looked to be the match-winner, was hauled off on 85 minutes for another defensive-minded player in Fernandinho. No, Pep was not planning for extra time, his intention was to grind this one out.
But it didn’t work. City froze and despite having two defensive midfielders on board to steady the ship, Madrid found a way with two late goals in less than two minutes to force extra time. City were forced to play without two of their best attacking players for the extra 30 minutes and it showed.
GREALISH THE NEARLY MAN
While some of Guardiola’s subs might not have been looked at favourably at full time, we very nearly had an entirely different set of headlines on the back pages of the world’s press – but Grealish twice failed to write his name into the history books.
The former Aston Villa man was a breath of fresh air after his introduction in the 78th minute, and credit must go to City for forcing the issue even with am aggregate lead to defend. Grealish surged down the left wing and caused all sorts of problems for Dani Carvajal and Madrid defenders as he looked to settle the tie.
He almost did on two occasions, but almost was as far as he came.
Jack Grealish was lively when he came on but missed two huge chances to put the game to bed
The first came in the 85th minute when Foden had slipped him down the channel and away he went – bearing down towards the byline and brushing off the challenge of Eder Militao and even going past Thibaut Courtois before sliding down and rifling at goal from an angle.
Foden had made the run into the box and nearly tapped it in and it required Ferland Mendy to hook it clear off the goal line as Madrid survived.
‘That changes everything for Grealish, that going in (chance when Mendy cleared off the line),’ said Rio Ferdinand in the BT Sport press box.
‘Whether you think he’s been good or bad or average, that would change Grealish’s City career.’
He had a shot cleared off the line and another bobbled just wide as he failed to grab headlines
Almost from an identical position on the left hand side, Grealish again burst down the wing as Bernardo Silva set him on his way with acres of space to run into. The ball was nearly glued to his feet as he slowly dribbled into the box, sprinted past the tormented Militao before firing agonisingly wide of Courtois’s right hand post.
Grealish ran his hands through his hair in despair – as a slow-motion replay revealed that Courtois got the slightest of touches on the shot to deflect it wide.
The England star knows he had the chance to seize history for City, and he blew it.
RODRYGO AND CAMAVINGA – GAME CHANGERS
City’s subs did not have the desired impact, but Ancelotti’s alterations did the business when it mattered.
In a game that was a stalemate for long periods, the match was in desperate need of fresh legs to shake things up – someone who could step up and add a bit of pizazz to open up the contest, and that man was Eduardo Camavinga.
Still only 19 years of age, the Frenchman is clearly a huge talent and put in a perfect job to unsettle City with some inch-perfect tackling, interceptions and important presence on the ball as he helped carry them up the pitch, drawing fouls and showing great energy to give Madrid another dimension in midfield.
Madrid’s changes did pay off as Rodrygo (L) and Eduardo Camavinga changed the game
He was introduced for former Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric in the 75th minute – a change that some might have scratched their head over as Madrid sought an equaliser – but he was one of the best players on the pitch and he ended up playing 46 minutes to see Madrid through after extra time.
He played the cross-field pass to Benzema that lead to Rodrygo’s first goal and it was his great run up the pitch that led to Benzema’s penalty in extra time. He had surged forwards with the ball before playing in Rodrygo, who pulled it back for the French striker before he was fouled by Ruben Dias.
As for Rodrygo, he was brought into the action in the 68th minute but didn’t have too much to do until the dying embers of normal time.
Rodrygo grabbed two goals in the dying embers and played the pass that led to the winning penalty from Karim Benzema
But all he needed was to get on the end of two chances to force extra time as he first bundled home from close range after Benzema had cushioned the ball into his path from Carvajal’s cross, then converted a glancing header to level the tie.
He even picked up the assist in extra time, and for a player who has had a pretty mixed season for Los Blancos and hasn’t always featured as a key man, he picked a great moment to step up when it mattered.
CITY STIFLED IN EXTRA TIME
With Guardiola banking on his changes to give City safe passage into the Champions League final, City’s failure to see it off saw them left vulnerable going into extra-time.
Having taken off both De Bruyne and Mahrez before the end of 90 minutes, City went into extra time deflated after seeing their aggregate lead evaporate and now two of their big weapons were left sitting in the dugout.
Instead, Guardiola had Foden, Grealish and Sterling in attack, with Fernandinho and Gundogan in midfield. City’s fluency up front just wasn’t quite the same – even though they did manage to create a good chance in extra time.
Guardiola went defensive to get City over the line but then left them stifled in extra-time
He had brought on Fernandinho and City’s best chance of extra time fell to him – but he was unable to steer a rebound past Courtois to force penalties
However, they will have wished it had fallen to someone like Mahrez and not Fernandinho – as the outgoing Brazilian central midfielder popped up at the back post after Foden had flicked on Rodri’s cross – but he couldn’t make enough contact to steer it home from the rebound after Courtois had made the initial save.
Had that chance fallen to De Bruyne or Mahrez, would we be talking about an entirely different story today?
Pep threw all of his eggs into one basket bidding to get to the Champions League final, and it backfired massively.
Not having a key creative force in midfield like De Bruyne was costly, while the extra energy of Camavinga carried Madrid through and proved pivotal.
And with Mahrez looking so dangerous and carrying such a threat from the wing, the decision to take him off looks more and more baffling with every replay of the game.
The likes of Phil Foden were unable to step up as Madrid began to control the game and they dumped City out of the Champions League