As Cristiano Ronaldo bore down on goal in the 90th minute of Tuesday’s Champions League game with Man City, there was an almost expectant whiff in the air. Sure enough, the strapping Portuguese fired a shot of great ferocity past Joe Hart to complete a remarkable turnaround for the La Liga champions in their first Champions League game of the season.
In what many might deem the ‘Group of Death’ – four teams comprising Real Madrid, Man City, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund – Roberto Mancini’s men opened their account against Jose Mourinho’s Real. The game finished 3-2 in favour of the home side with Ronaldo plundering the winner minutes from time but that doesn’t tell the full story.
City, with their backs against the wall for much of the first half, found themselves 2-1 up courtesy of Edin Dzeko and Aleksander Kolorov, with a Marcelo goal sandwiched in between. Yet, with only five minutes remaining, Madrid levelled through Karim Benzema and then stole three points from under City’s nose with Ronaldo’s late, late strike.
It was harsh on City who looked destined to have come away with at least a point from a very tough assignment in the white-hot atmosphere of the Bernabeu. That said, they can have no real complaints about the result as Mournho’s side created enough chances to have won more handsomely. It was a very harsh lesson learned for the Blues; if they think that they’re team to beat on home soil, then it most certainly isn’t the case in the Champions League. In this, only their second season in the competition, they will be hoping for an improvement on last season’s showing when they were eliminated in the group stages.
It was an extremely difficult start for them – arguably the most difficult of them all – in the home of the mighty Madrid and, no doubt, they can be pleased with their efforts but efforts count for nothing at this level. They were immensely close to becoming only the third English team to win at the Bernabeu but failed to see it out – a harsh reflection on them and an example of the ruthless nature of this competition.
Not many teams in the Premier League – spare maybe Man United, Chelsea or Arsenal – would have given City the run-around in the way Madrid did in the first half of Tuesday’s game. They attacked with verve and vigour; Ronaldo constantly finding space down City’s right and getting shots away whenever he could. He gave Brazilian full-back Maicon a torrid evening and this pattern didn’t fade too much in the second period despite City having a decent spell (during which they scored twice), with Ronaldo finally punishing them for affording him that space with the winning goal.
City can’t afford to be too downhearted for long, they have Dortmund up next at the Etihad Stadium in two weeks’ time. Lose that and they’re already facing an uphill battle to get out of the group, it’s important that they don’t dwell on this result too much and bounce back with an aggressive and positive performance against the Bundesliga champions. That won’t be an easy assignment; Jurgen Klopp’s man will be brimming with confidence after a late win against Ajax in their opening match.
The result at the Bernabeu proved, if anything, that City have a lot to learn in the Champions League. Whilst they can be confident of defending their Premier League crown, simply attaining European glory is something which will be much harder to come by. Teams like Ajax, Dortmund and Madrid have been doing this for years, they know what it’s all about and will prey on City.
While it’s far too early to judge how they’ll do in this campaign, one thing is for certain – they need to learn from their mistakes and quickly. Or they could be facing a tough task getting themselves out of this very tricky group.
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