If ever there was such thing as a statement of intent then Manchester City and Real Madrid both showed the world theirs over the weekend. With City thumping Aston Villa 5-0 and Madrid mauling Bilbao 5-1, both teams demonstrated a competitiveness and hunger to win that would surely bode well for the crucial clash tonight in the Champions League.
City had to win to keep their slim qualification hopes alive whereas Madrid’s fate was in their own hands. The last time these sides met, it was an epic encounter decided by Cristiano Ronaldo. With the current form of both sides and what was at stake in this clash, these 90 minutes at the Etihad had the potential to be even better than the reverse fixture at the Bernabeu.
This encounter was very much a tale of two halves as Mourinho’s men took the first half with some fantastic football. As two of the most potent attacking teams in world football went at each other everyone was expecting goals. It took only ten minutes for those expectations to be realised. The tricky Angel Di Maria drove a low cross into the City box and, with the defence slow to react, the predator-like instincts of Karim Benzema took over as he raced in to score from close range. A really weak goal for the Premier League champions to be conceding but that’s what happens when you switch off at this level – something City have been doing a lot of in Europe this season. A mix of blind luck and brilliance saw City survive the next fifteen minutes without falling further behind. Three minutes following the first goal Ronaldo put the ball on a plate for Sami Khedira but the German, not renowned for his shooting, put the ball wide. Ronaldo then had his turn at the City goal only for his adventurous lob to be cleared off the City line by Matija Nastastic, who again had beaten Joleon Lescott onto Mancini’s teamsheet. City’s defence soon went missing again as Khedira broke through once more only for his effort to be thwarted thanks to some fantastic goalkeeping from Joe Hart.
The game then turned into the Silva show as the Spanish superstar took City’s European ambitions into his own hands, pulling the strings like only he can in midfield. Time after time the ex-Valencia man and Sergio Aguero linked up but just couldn’t find a way past Iker Casillas in the Real Madrid goal. City did manage to equalise in the second half courtesy of the man who always comes good at crucial times, Sergio Aguero. Arbeloa tugged back the Argentinian as they tussled in the Madrid box – very careless of the defender as he received a second booking and was dismissed for this incident. Aguero, unsurprisingly, converted the penalty and from then on it was all City. Mourinho brought on Raphael Varane to replace Benzema as he sought to survive the inevitable pressure from Roberto Mancini’s side.
Despite all the money, all the star power, all the talent, Manchester City just couldn’t break down and for the second year running, dropped out of Europe’s premier competition. A place in the Europa League is still a possibility but is that going to satisfy the owners and the fans? Only time will tell.