Real Madrid vs Manchester City: The beauty and equality of living on a razor’s edge | Barney Ronay

The most significant moment of Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu came nine minutes into the second half, when Erling Holland finally found a clear channel of space alongside the Real Madrid centre-backs and headed towards goal with that easy rise. Stride, range finders start to bleep and flash, finger on kill button, eyes narrow behind his aviators, target locked on.

At that point David Alaba produced a phenomenal recovery tackle. Back within sliding range, Alaba threw himself in a gymnastic semi-pirouette around Holland’s high shooting foot. Still sliding, still calculating, processing the drag vectors, Alaba successfully got his left foot in front of the ball’s predicted path and parried the shot as it pinged into the far corner of the goal with Holland’s toe.

Alaba got to her feet and bumped chests with Dani Carvajal. There were urgent low fives as Madrid prepared to defend the corner. It was good, very good indeed. But Alaba has a history of pulling off this kind of late-stage miracle-tackle.

Holland’s response is perhaps more telling. He basically looked surprised. It doesn’t happen to him much. Holland was very quick, very decisive in his movements. But it was pretty much their night, as quiet as they have been at any point during the 90 minutes since the inauguration of the Cruyffian “box” (layman’s version: five big boys at the back).

Holland’s disqualification is a victory for Carlo Ancelotti’s defenders, particularly Antonio Rudiger, who is frantic and flustered and, frankly, looks like he’s playing in a pair of wells, but is a top-class warrior when it comes to details. One-on-one duels, he held and scragged his man to prevent him from spinning, the most striking Holland at the Bernabeu towards the end was probably Alfie, caught on film in an altercation in the stands, and who was also manhandled to safety by a powerful-looking man in a local uniform. Son like father.

The point is, it’s allowed to happen. Other footballers are also good. And with all due respect to Fulham, West Ham and RB Leipzig’s defenders and the Premier League, where scorelines of 4-3 and 6-0 and 5-3 are commonplace. There’s a reason why Tim Ream and Angelo Ogbonna aren’t the faces you see at brawler midweek global TV gigs, but the voice screams “Nus somes les meilleurs” and Manchester City fans dispense imperial V-signs from God in the pen.

Madrid in midweek has been the elite standard in club football for the past decade. It means it’s tough. No one has been pocketed or exposed as a fraud here. Rather the lesson of Alaba’s craft, the sheer tone of an occasionally chilling, always engrossing draw, is that Real Madrid’s success isn’t really based on magic or sorcery or some sort of anti-Pep spirit power; But elite players do elite things.

Of course that is not news. But it’s a useful point of view with a 1-1 already well-drawn dissection and anatomical function. It is of course completely result oriented. Winning by the odd goal in Manchester and City’s caution in Madrid becomes a genius-level act of game management. Lost by the odd goal and once again this bald fraud blinked in the eye of the storm, cocking his own guns and all.

Pep Guardiola resisted the temptation to try something too clever at Madrid and was rewarded with what looked to be a mature performance and a good result.
Pep Guardiola resisted the temptation to try something too clever at Madrid and was rewarded with what looked to be a mature performance and a good result. Photograph: Alex Livesey / Danehouse / Getty Images

At least in this case the criticism is focused Under-thinking context Where are the sane tweaks, the contrarian options? Where does Pep get the same team that has won 15 of 16, scoring 52 goals in the process?

The reality is of course much simpler. City were cautious because Guardiola believed it was the best way to win and made the logical choice to learn from last year, where they failed to defend against Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus (total goals: a lot). The way Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva (total European goals this season: one) have done in recent weeks.

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Pep explained that he chose “players who hold the ball” because “if the game is crazy we won’t be as good as them”. No one has bottled anything here. Instead Guardiola did something in line with his vision of the game; Vision, by its very nature, is sometimes a bit chilling. In fact the 1-1 draw in Madrid remains the best result City have managed in the three semi-final matches between these two sides.

This leaves City narrowly but weak favorites to go through. At which point it is worth adding some detail to the scope of that work. Because Madrid, lest we forget, is exceptionally good. Vinícius Jr. was an excellent attacking player on the pitch, cementing his status as one of the truly elite creative players in world football, the 22-year-old adding clarity and incisiveness to the most virginal of situations. Surely it’s time for Brazil to distance themselves from Neymar a bit to build a team around this more methodical attacking phenomenon.

For all enduring parts, Madrid’s squad is quietly full of youth. Eduardo Camavinga, who scored for Vinicius, is 20 years old. Add to that mix Jude Bellingham, the current chatter it could happen, Chuck in Aurelian Tchoumeni and who knows, maybe even Holland in a few years (Madrid seems to believe this will happen), and it’s not hard to see another dynasty emerging here.

At the end of it both teams were happy with a 1-1 draw, which made the task at hand quite clear. But to call it a missed opportunity, or to call it a bottle job or chalk, fails to see the magnitude and indeed the beauty of this occasion.

This City side is as close to a total winning machine as anyone has gotten in English football in the modern era. Madrid have now met and disarmed their opponents at the Bernabeu, not by magic or blinking in the lights, but with a layered slow-burn draw that still leaves razor-edge parity at the Etihad. time of the week

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