One of the best parts of this final stretch of domestic soccer is the closing stages of the Champions League. After a year hiatus from the semi-finals, the English Premier League once again found themselves battling in the last four. For the first time in their history, Manchester City were in the final four of Europe’s elite tournament and standing in front of them were the tournament’s most successful club: Real Madrid. Los Blancos are no stranger to Champions League glory having hoisted the trophy ten times in their history. Would these seasoned champions be able to overcome the challengers?
Manchester City fans would have breathed a huge sigh of relief when the team sheets were announced. Due to a muscle injury over the weekend, Cristiano Ronaldo found himself watching from the sidelines. The Portuguese winger was Madrid’s leading scorer in the tournament with 16 goals through just ten games, 12 more than Karim Benzema. The star power that Zinedine Zidane’s squad possesses softened some of the blow from Ronaldo’s absence, but it would still be a major dent in the attack.
The opening minutes of the match saw Manchester City press into the final third. The Cityzens were clearly not intimidated by this unfamiliar territory. Despite this early pressure, nobody could find a way to test Keylor Navas between the pipes, and every City attack was seemingly ending with a goal kick for Real Madrid.
In the 40th minute, City’s optimism must’ve taken a dip as David Silva was forced off through injury. The Spanish midfielder was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, as the 19-year-old made just his third European appearance. Silva’s injury was the biggest talking point in a lackluster half, and as you can probably tell by the lack of real highlights the first 45 minutes came and went without a single goal or shot on target.
Sergio Agüero nearly had the match’s first shot on goal less than a minutes into the second half, but his powerful drive sailed just over the crossbar. Eight minutes later, the person that everyone expected to get the first shot on goal, Sergio Ramos, put a header straight at Joe Hart. Real Madrid looked content to play for a draw in this away fixture, and Manchester City had done little to really test their visitor’s backline.
As the match dragged on, neither side could seem to figure out a way to string together a meaningful attack. Time and time again, any promising passage of play would end with a cross going into the opposing keeper’s hand. In the 71st minute, the best chance of the half fell to Jesé. The winger’s header looked like it was on it’s way over Hart, but the ball carried just a little bit too far and bounced off the woodwork.
In the final 15 minutes of the match, Madrid began to push forward out of their defensive shell. Former Tottenham players Gareth Bale and Luka Modric both tried their luck from distance, and both of their efforts failed to test Joe Hart. In the 79th minute, a header from Casemiro forced the English keeper into an awkward kick save. Three minutes later, Pepe should have given Madrid the lead. The center back found himself one-on-one with Hart six yards out, but could only hammer his volley straight into the keeper before the rebound was cleared from danger.
With all of the offensive firepower on the pitch, it’s a little surprising and disappointing that this match ended 0-0. Manchester City will be disappointed not to get a result at home, but should also be relieved that they didn’t give up any away goals to Real Madrid. Maybe the force will be with one of these team’s the next time they meet on Star Wars Day (May 4th).