The Champions League returned with a mouth-watering clash as Manchester City hosted 13-time champions Real Madrid at the Etihad for the first leg of the semi-finals.
The game promised to be one for the neutrals, and certainly delivered as the hosts ran out as the winners in a seven-goal affair.
While City took a two-goal lead early on, the individual brilliance of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr. got Madrid back into the tie and in a fighting position ahead of the second leg.
Following this thrilling game of football, Madrid Universal runs the rule over Carlo Ancelotti’s men.
Thibaut Courtois: 6
Courtois made just the one save today, but could not be blamed for three of the four goals conceded. One would have expected him to heroically reach the fourth, one, though. Alas.
Daniel Carvajal: 7
Carvajal had some trouble dealing with the triple threat of Oleksandr Zinchenko, Kevin de Bruyne, but covered well by making an excellent goal-line clearance.
Eder Militao: 4.5
Far from Militao’s best game as he was run ragged by Gabriel Jesus and de Bruyne. Was careless while defending against Riyad Mahrez on multiple occasions in the second half and was dragged completely out of position for the second goal.
David Alaba: 4
Was at fault for Jesus’ goal in the 11th minute, and was fortunate that Zinchenko and Mahrez did not take their chances. Got subbed at half-time due to an injury scare.
Ferland Mendy: 7
Yet another Madrid defender who made careless errors tonight. The Frenchman rushed into a careless challenge while defending Mahrez, eventually leading to Phil Foden’s goal. Got two assists, though, which have to be credited.
Federico Valverde: 6.5
One of Valverde’s more average outings tonight. He was evidently uncomfortable against Zinchenko and de Bruyne’s duo, and, offensively rather invisible.
Toni Kroos: 6.5
Kroos started the game as the pivot and naturally was not sharp enough defensively. Not much can be made of his game, though.
Luka Modric: 7
By far and large Madrid’s best midfielder on the night, Modric was energetic throughout the 90 minutes and caused problems for Fernandinho and Bernardo Silva often.
Had a shot early on, but otherwise pretty passive.
Karim Benzema: 8.5
Benzema is the master of creating chances out of nothing, and the first goal stands proof of the same. Mendy’s cross was accurate, but on the volley, on his weaker foot, it was barely a half-chance. The ball did eventually roll in. The panenka penalty was just the cherry on the cake.
Vinicius Jr: 8
Vinicius was well controlled by Ruben Dias for the most part, but he got one chance to break through and ran more than half the length of the pitch to bury his chance.
Nacho Fernandez: 6
Could have probably done better for the Foden goal, but otherwise did well to cover for the injured Alaba.
Eduardo Camavinga: N/A
While he had nearly 20 minutes to make his mark, Camavinga did not do enough to warrant a rating.
Dani Ceballos: N/A
Did not do enough to warrant a rating.
Marco Asensio: N/A
Did not play enough to receive a rating.
Three talking points from Real Madrid 1-0 Union Berlin
Real Madrid kicked off their UEFA Champions League campaign on Wednesday night with a narrow 1-0 win over Union Berlin.
The victory was deserved from the point of view of domination of play. Real Madrid were the only team attacking for large parts of the night and created chances to no end.
Yet, one must tip the hat to the visitors’ resilient defence. Playing the first UEFA Champions League clash in the club’s history is difficult enough, let alone at the Santiago Bernabeu. Union Berlin did so and with some style.
Until the 93rd minute, a draw appeared to be the most probable result. The visitors refused to cave into Real Madrid’s relentless attacks and poured their hearts out on the field.
In the end, however, Carlo Ancelotti’s men did what they do best. A last-minute winner from Jude Bellingham gave the hosts all three points.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points from Real Madrid 1-0 Union Berlin.
The power of Real Madrid
Real Madrid are one of the few teams in the world that can never be written off. Such is the ability of the team, more so under Carlo Ancelotti, that they can pull off a win even after a howler.
Their unfair advantage, in part, owes itself to the ridiculous individual quality they possess on the field. Any player is capable of turning the game around with a moment of magic.
Yet, the most important factor that works in their favour is the mental resilience in the squad. Real Madrid never believe it is over until it really is, and Wednesday night’s game provided further reassurance as to why they are the mentality monsters.
For 90 minutes, the visitors frustrated Real Madrid to the limit. They stuck to their defensive lines with discipline and did not give Los Blancos much to work with.
Yet, Real Madrid’s perseverance was visible through the ordeal. The intensity of their attacks amplified with every passing minute and showed no signs of tapering down.
Poetically, they found the winning goal in the final minute of added time when all doors seemed closed, with Jude Bellingham being the hero yet again.
Forwards need to step up
The men in white had 75% of the possession on Wednesday night at Santiago Bernabeu and kept making the required penetrative attacks.
In 90 minutes, the hosts racked up an xG tally of 3.80. Yet, shockingly, they were goalless even in the penultimate minute of the game.
Real Madrid took 32 shots against Union Berlin as opposed to the opposition’s four. Seven shots were on target while 10 were blocked.
In terms of big chances, the me in white churned up five in the 90 minutes of which they missed four. They also struck the woodwork twice last night.
The team’s struggles in the final third place the spotlight on Rodrygo Goes and Joselu, who were the team’s two forwards at Santiago Bernabeu. Both players suffered disappointing nights in front of goal and just could not catch a break from their poor luck.
The Spaniard had three shots on target, five off it, and three attempts blocked against Union Berlin. All of it, however, was in vain.
The Brazilian was not much better with three shots and one blocked chance. Nevertheless, their poor results were not for a lack of trying if that is any silver lining.
Far from convincing
Real Madrid’s mentality and fortitude to push for a win is indeed a reason to be optimistic. However, that does not hide the fact that the men in white struggled and toiled on to no end.
The Champions League has no minnows, but one would expect Real Madrid to show their dominance at some point in the game and close the deal. However, that spell of play never arrived.
Los Blancos may be on a six-game winning streak so far this season, but there is reason to believe that a factor of luck has been essential for most of their scalps.
All eyes will thus be on Ancelotti now. The manager has a world-class roster at his disposal, and it will now be up to him to enhance Real Madrid’s performance in the final third. After all, putting away chances is as important as creating them.