Wednesday, May 4, 2016

It Happened in Europe: Real Madrid frustrate Manchester City on their way to final

Real Madrid 1-0 Manchester City (1-0 on aggregate)
Manchester City faced a huge uphill challenge by heading to the San Bernabeo without a goal in hand. To make matters worse, Real Madrid would have a fully armed and operational Ronaldo for the match that would decide who moves on to face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League Final in Milan. At least City didn't concede in the first leg, meaning a draw would be a victory for them thanks to the away goals tiebreaker.

Manchester City got off to a less than ideal start, although not because they conceded an early goal. Captain and top defender Vincent Kompany was forced off within ten minutes with yet another muscle strain in his leg. It's likely a similar injury to the one that has kept him on the sidelines for the bulk of this campaign and truly affected City's title pursuit that seemed so alive and well in the opening months of the season.

It didn't take long for Real Madrid to capitalize on the defensive weakness. In the 29th minute, Gareth Bale was allowed far too much space on the left side of the penalty area and he banked a shot in a shot off Fernando from a tight angle off the far post. It would go down as an own goal of the Manchester City midfielder. The lead was almost doubled in the 36th minute of a free kick that found the net after a couple of touches, but Pepe was offside and the goal did not count. That was only further evidence that Real Madrid's chances just kept coming.

Although the late part of the half resulted in small shards of life for Manchester City, they were still being totally dominated. The one thing they could hang their hats on in the second half was that a single goal would see them through to the final. The trouble would be finding that goal agaisnt a totally dominant Real Madrid side that was constantly attacking and now allowing City much of anything in terms of quality possession.

Real Madrid looked like scoring several times in the opening 20 minutes of the second, but some nice saves from Joe Hart and timely offside flags kept bailing City out. The Spanish were dropping deeper into a defensive shell as the clock ticked down. They knew a single goal would end their European ambitions, so they were mroe interested in not conceding than finding a second goal through something other than a quick counter attack.

The tactic worked quite well. Real Madrid's well organized defense proved impossible for Manchester City to penetrate. City only managed five shots on the day and only one of them found the target. Only two could have possibly been considered threatening.

So we will be treated to a rematch of the Madrid Derby final of two years ago that Real Madrid won. Atletico won La Liga that year, and was probably the favorite to win then as they are now. But with a team with Real Madrid's talent, they can hardly be counted out.

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