Spanish defender Sergio Ramos was sent off as Manchester City produced a terrific late turnaround to defeat Real Madrid in Wednesday’s Champions League last-16 tie at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The Spanish giants had taken the lead midway into the second half through Isco’s striker, but Gabriel Jesus leveled the scores with a header before Kevin De Bruyne scored from the penalty spot to give City the win.
Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane left midfielder Toni Kroos and Gareth Bale on the bench, while he handed Brazilian teenager Vinicius Jr. the chance to impress. Also, Pep Guardiola left Sergio Aguero and David Silva on the bench, while Raheem Sterling was given a chance to keep fit on his return from injury.
Jesus tested Thibaut Courtois after being slipped in by De Bruyne’s incisive pass before City suffered a major blow as Aymeric Laporte limped off injured. Ederson produced an excellent save to keep out Karim Benzema’s header, but the rebound should have been turned home by Vinicius, only for the Madrid man to lose his footing.
Instead, the closest either side came to an opener before the break was in stoppage time when Jesus’ shot was diverted towards his own goal by Sergio Ramos and Fede Valverde had to boot clear off the line.
The visitors found space on the break a little easier to come by at the start of the second period, with Riyad Mahrez looking increasingly threatening, and the Algerian was denied by a smart low stop from Courtois.
Just as City was starting to knock on the door, however, Madrid pounced at the other end, Vinicius showing great pace to nick it away from Kyle Walker and squaring calmly for Isco to tuck home.
City had substitute Fernandinho to thank for close-quarter blocks that denied Madrid a second, as Sterling was sent into the fray in place of Bernardo Silva. The change immediately paid dividends, because it restored Jesus to a more natural forward position and from there he stole in behind Ramos at the back post to nod De Bruyne’s cross beyond Courtois.
Sterling then played a more direct role in the goal that truly puts City in command, winning a penalty off the rash Dani Carvajal, which De Bruyne converted in a fashion that makes you wonder why he hasn’t been taking them all season.
They might have had a third in the closing minutes when Jesus pounced on a mistake and raced through on goal but Ramos tripped him just outside the box and was rightly given his marching orders.
Speaking after the win, Guardiola said that he was delighted with the win but warned that Zidane will be going through his tactics ahead of the second leg and Real Madrid have a history for comebacks.
“I’m happy for the victory of course but for the performance as well,” he said.
“We tried to play against this team in a quite good personality. They started really well and for the first 10-15 minutes, we could not take the ball. We were not able to make the sequences of 10-15 passes in a row. After this 15 minutes, we played really well.
“When we were playing better we concede a goal which we should not concede at this level but sometimes we do this kind of things. When Madrid was playing better we scored a goal and after that found our rhythm and we scored a second one.
“Today we’re happy but still it’s not over. If there’s one team in the world that can overcome everything is this club for its experience, its history, but hopefully, for our people, we can do a good performance and go through.
“I’m pretty sure Zidane and his people are going to look at what we have done and the second game will be different, we’ll have to be cautious and be alert to what he’s trying to do, adapt quickly and try to go there to win the game.”
“We could not control what happened off the pitch, all we can do is on the pitch and they want to do it,” he said. “The last seasons we were outstanding, we compete really, really well. This competition is special. They want to do it and they do it for ourselves, for our fans.
“I want to be honest – it’s not easy for our club to live that. But I’m so confident that everything is going to go well. All we can do is to help the team and play good and win games. Hopefully, the board, the lawyers and the rest can convince UEFA we did good things and not the wrong things.”