Real Madrid 3-2 Manchester City: City crumble in the cauldron of the Bernabeu
Real Madrid 3-2 Manchester City
Roberto Mancini will have no doubt woken up today with a huge headache and many regrets from the night before.
He will also be asking himself some questions as he frantically douses his face in cold water: was it wise to give Matija Nastasić his debut against Ronaldo & co? Is Maicon really a better option than Zabaleta? Is Gareth Barry ever going to be good enough at this level?
However, the first thing he should consider doing is swallowing his pride – of which he has a significant amount – and apologising to his goalkeeper Joe Hart.
The England international looked shattered in a post-match interview after City’s gruelling encounter against La Liga champions Real Madrid – possibly because he’d spent the best part of 87 minutes keeping his side in a match they could have been out of by half time.
Seemingly fighting back the urge to break down and cry, Hart opened up and revealed his true reflections on the 90 minutes that had just passed. He was honest, he was refreshing and above all he was absolutely spot on: “We dug deep, got a lead twice and we lost it, so we can only blame ourselves,” Hart told ITV. “It’s hard to come off the field after losing 3-2 and be positive. I’m really sorry. We’re not a team that should come here and pat ourselves on the back for doing well. We’re a team that gets results.”
Sensationally, his manager responded with wasp-like fury, batting down his keeper like a naughty school boy: “I agree but I think Joe Hart should do his job. I can criticise the team, not Joe Hart.”
The Italian added: “Joe Hart should stay as goalie. I am the judge, not Joe Hart.”
It’s always a pleasure to see a player put in his place, to be toppled off his high horse or cut down once he has clambered above his station, and Mancini himself is a master of the art; Carlos Tevez will tell you that much, but this just seemed unfair.
Hart had just watched his team throw away what would have been a historic victory in the Spanish capital, and after producing a string of fine saves in order to get anywhere near that position, it was him, as well as his unusually flustered captain, Vincent Kompany, who was culpable for Ronaldo’s heart-breaking winner. Anybody would have been mortified in that situation.
What is for sure is Mancini will have to regain his composure and his head for the challenges that lie in wait.
The Italian has failed in Europe in his last five attempts now, and he will know more than anybody that progressing through this group stage – no matter how difficult that may be – is the absolute minimum requirement in his season’s brief.
Unfortunately for him, his men looked out of their depth for large spells of last night’s game. With Silva still struggling to achieve anywhere near the standards he set last season and player of the year Vincent Kompany left chasing the shadows of Madrid’s front three. Only Yaya Toure looked capable of breaking up the pattern of wave after wave of Real attacks.
He did just that after 69 minutes, thundering through the home side’s rear guard and calmly slipping through Edin Dzeko to slot home. It was just reward for a fantastic display by the Ivorian and he should have made it two; this time he found himself bearing down upon Casillas but could only fire wide.
The impressive Marcelo fortuitously levelled proceedings but in the 85th minute all hell broke loose.
Set pieces have been Madrid’s Achilles’ heel all season and so it proved again, with Aleksander Kolarov somehow managing to deceive defenders and goalkeeper alike by sneaking in a free kick from the right.
City fans hadn’t gone this wild since that sunny day in May and after taking an absolute hammering they could now dream of one of the greatest nights in the club’s history.
Unfortunately, talk of Mourinho losing it in the dressing room at Real proved nothing more than idle conjecture.
Far from sinking hearts and battering egos, City’s lead did nothing but rouse the Spanish giants and their superstars. The away fans had barely stopped dancing like lunatics before Karim Benzema turned sweetly and dispatched a drive past a despairing Hart.
A superb climax to an enthralling game? Not quite. Cristiano Ronaldo had been desperately trying to get in on the action all evening, and in the 90th minute his shot looped over the ducking Kompany and past the unsighted Hart.
A great game and a superb night of Champions League action. Mancini may disagree, however, as he crawls back into bed and ponders the repercussions for his talented, yet bruised squad.
Real Madrid: Casillas, Arbeloa, Pepe, Varane, Marcelo, Khedira (Modric 73), Alonso, Di Maria, Essien (Ozil 65), Ronaldo, Higuain (Benzema 73).Subs: Adan, Sergio Ramos, Fabio Coentrao, Kaka. Goals: Marcelo 76, Benzema 87, Ronaldo 90.
Man City: Hart, Maicon (Zabaleta 74), Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy, Javi Garcia, Silva (Dzeko 63), Toure, Barry, Nasri (Kolarov 36), Tevez. Subs: Pantilimon, Lescott, Aguero, Rodwell. Booked: Javi Garcia, Kompany, Dzeko. Goals: Dzeko 69, Kolarov 85.
Jamie Murphy, football correspondent