How Manchester City Get Rid of Real Madrid

Manchester City successfully advanced to the Champions League quarter-finals after beating Real Madrid with a score of 2-1 on Friday (7/8) local time. Pep Guardiola’s men confirmed the victory with the same score in the first leg to qualify 4-2 on aggregate. Despite Karim Benzema’s equalizer after Raheem Sterling’s goal, Zinedine Zidane is eliminated from the Champions League for the first time after Gabriel Jesus’s decisive goal.

Eder Militao and Raphael Varane are believed to be the midfield partner without Sergio Ramos, who has been hit by card accumulation. Eden Hazard filled the left wing and Rodrygo on the right. The front line trio of the home team is filled by Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Phii Foden. On paper, Gabriel Jesus plays in the middle with Sterling on the left and Foden on the right.

Madrid apply a high block defense line to reduce foot-to-foot play from City. When the ball is in Ederson, Madrid will form a triangle to cover City’s short pass options. Benzema was assisted by two midfielders to prevent City’s progression to two central defenders and Rodri as a defensive midfielder. The results were quite good, Ederson was forced to play hull ball which was not the hallmark of The Citizens at all.

Meanwhile, Madrid’s attack did not go well. The Madrid attack relies heavily on Benzema. Five of the nine shots were scored by the French striker, one of which was a goal. No Madrid player has surpassed Benzema’s two dribbles and two key passes. The dependence on Benzema makes it seem difficult for Madrid to endanger the City goal if Benzema is not involved.

The Madrid goal was born from a combination of Benzema and Rodrygo. Benzema managed to find Rodrygo in the space between the lines. The Brazilian wonderkid then successfully passed Joao Cancelo and fired a cross which Benzema headed for a goal. Benzema acted as the initiator as well as the goalscorer in this goal process.

Rodrygo on the right indicates that Madrid will play wide, supported by two full-backs who are also happy to overlap. The three Madrid midfielders have excellent passing quality which makes it easier for Madrid to move towards the attack. However, City successfully anticipated this with good positioning and awareness.

An example is the moment above when Casemiro tries to move the ball to the right. Rodri is well positioned and able to read the situation correctly. Rodri’s body shape is also perfect for chopping balls to Rodrygo. This often happens in the first half.

Madrid were better in the second half but City were able to reshape quickly. In the 70th minute, Madrid had a 3v3 situation but five seconds later the City players were able to put them in the lead. As a result Madrid failed to take advantage of the situation at the beginning of this moment.

When Madrid held the ball in their own area, City pressed the block high even though it was not as intense as usual. City always presses for the ball, but in this match they are more focused on closing Madrid’s bait options. The thing that makes the difference between pressing City and Madrid is that City are better at winning the ball, namely when Madrid defenders are still looking for short ball options even though they are not available. Unlike Ederson who tends to play it safe if the short pass option is closed. The result was Sterling’s first goal after Gabriel Jesus successfully snatched the ball from Raphael Varane.

After winning the ball, City immediately tried to make progressions quickly. Kevin De Bruyne is the main character in City’s transition phase. In total De Bruyne made nine key passes and three shots. De Bruyne’s combination with Foden managed to penetrate the Madrid midfield to be followed by Sterling or Gabriel Jesus.

City were able to control the ball as much as 55% with a total of 20 kicks, twice as many as Madrid. The dynamism of City from various aspects was also very influential for this important victory. Meanwhile, Madrid appeared below standard, making many blunders and often losing duels.

Madrid Appears Below Standard

Manchester City are indeed more dominant and dangerous, but the two goals they scored were Varane’s blunders. City’s second goal was very cheap given by Madrid. Varane failed to control the ball from the stomach well which was eventually used by Gabriel Jesus.

Mistakes were not only made by Varane. Carvajal also recorded two easy ball losses. In midfield, Casemiro often misses. In this match, Casemiro’s passing percentage was the lowest among Madrid’s main players. The Brazilian midfielder has only recorded 74% successful passes, far below Casemiro’s standard 4% successful passes throughout the season. Madrid also lost a lot in duels. City successfully won 48 duels while Madrid was only able to win 36 duels.

City Dynamism in Various Aspects

City played very dynamically throughout the match. Not only from the movement of the player, but also from the position of the player. In the first half, the positions of City’s players were different from those of the players on paper. Foden plays in the center, while Gabriel Jesus and Sterling are on the wings to take advantage of the space between the center-back and the Madrid wing-back.

Foden often goes down to do a combination with De Bruyne in the middle third. This movement made Foden seem to be an additional midfielder to penetrate from midfield.

For example, on Sterling’s odds in the 18th minute. Foden who came down allowed him to take the ball from De Bruyne and dribble forward. Sterling and Gabriel Jesus are trying to exploit space. Sterling finally got the ball and got past Eder Militao. Unfortunately Sterling fell before Casemiro made a tackle instead of firing.

Second half, City returned to formation on paper. Sterling returned to the left wing. This transfer of position is quite troublesome for Madrid. At the start of the second half, Carvajal failed to anticipate Sterling’s move as he tried to receive De Bruyne’s through ball. Sterling then had a golden opportunity but was still able to be cleared by Thibaut Courtois.

City’s dynamic movement enables them to make opportunities through the third man run scheme. The De Bruyne opportunity below is an example. When Gabriel Jesus came down and sent Casemiro up, De Bruyne took advantage of the hole behind Casemiro. Ilkay Gundogan feeds the through ball for De Bruyne after receiving a pass from Rodri. This chance failed to score as Carvajal made a crucial tackle just before De Bruyne was about to fire. City are very dangerous in attacking even though Madrid’s high pressing is able to anticipate build-up from below as previously explained.

A very interesting match took place at the Etihad Stadium. Both teams played well with high pressing. The difference is City play safer by not pushing short passes when not available. City’s attack is also very dynamic with a rotating forward trio and good midfield support. The sub-standard performance of the Madrid players finally made City managed to score two goals and advance to the quarter-finals.

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