Paul Wilkes was at the Etihad Stadium to see how Manuel Pellegrini fared against his former side with only one-and-a-half of their star trio present...
1. Decimated BBC make for blunt Madrid
With Cristiano Ronaldo ruled out of the squad after failing a late fitness test, there was no shortage of suitors waiting to take his place in the Real Madrid lineup. James Rodriguez, Jese and Isco were all contenders for the role, but Lucas Vazquez was surprisingly given the task.
The winger repaid Zinedine Zidane’s faith in him and gave glimpses of a bright future, although it was very difficult for the wideman to make an impact.
With Cristiano Ronaldo ruled out of the squad after failing a late fitness test, there was no shortage of suitors waiting to take his place in the Real Madrid lineup
In the 24th minute he caught the eye with some superb control to bring the ball down off his chest following a crossfield pass. Vazquez was keen to impress generally – he ran a mile further than anyone else on the pitch, completing all three of his take-ons and making two tackles.
Karim Benzema had been struggling before the game and was withdrawn at the interval, as Jese replaced the Frenchman. The youngster provided more problems for Manchester City than Benzema and even hit the crossbar with a header.
Things didn’t quite work out for Gareth Bale, with the Welshman having a greater influence on the match in the second half when given more freedom. His best effort came in the final stages, when he curled an exquisite shot just wide of Joe Hart’s post.
Ronaldo has provided 62% of Real Madrid’s goals in the Champions League this season, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that los Blancos drew a blank without the competition’s leading goalscorer.
“He was not comfortable, although he said he felt good in training yesterday,” Zidane said in his post-match press conference.
2. Silva’s injury changes complexion of match
Both teams lacked fluidity in their attacking play throughout the match, but in the first half that was partly down to the opposition’s defensive work.
The injury to David Silva just before the break forced Manuel Pellegrini’s introduction of Kelechi Iheanacho into the No.10 role.
Both teams lacked fluidity in their attacking play throughout the match, but in the first half that was partly down to the opposition’s defensive work
The youngster is a natural striker and looked to support Sergio Aguero regularly, although it meant that City lost some of their control. They had less guile without Silva – the Spaniard made 21 passes when he was on the pitch, while Iheanacho managed just eight.
“David is very important for us,” affirmed Pellegrini after the match. “[But] we pressed high and we recovered the ball very well.”
Real Madrid grew into the game: they upped their completed attacking-third passes from 43 in the first half to 57 in the second. They also had 12 shots after the break, following only two efforts in the opening half of the match.
Madrid’s best chances still came from set-pieces, though, with Sergio Ramos registering the first attempt on target with a header straight at Hart in the 54th minute. “It might be that we expected more from the team in the first half, but we played a good match over the 90 minutes,” explained Zidane.
The England goalkeeper was particularly busy late on, when he saved with his feet from Casemiro and spread himself superbly to deny Pepe when the Portuguese defender had the game’s best chance.
3. Navas gets the beating of Marcelo
The former Sevilla attacker enjoys playing against Real Madrid and in particular Marcelo, having plundered three goals for his old side in La Liga encounters
Jesus Navas has not always been a crowd favourite at the Etihad Stadium, and with more technically superior players around him, the Spaniard has looked a little one-dimensional at times. His end product has let him down on a number of occasions, and he hasn’t always maximised his capability to beat opposing defenders.
The former Sevilla attacker enjoys playing against Real Madrid and in particular Marcelo, having plundered three goals for his old side in La Liga encounters. When Bale produced a clever flick in the opening minutes of the match, Navas recreated the skill himself moments later in a pass to Fernandinho.
Navas held his position on the touchline and that meant Marcelo was unsure about his positioning. The Brazilian was unusually reserved when it came to his own attacking intent, although he did recover possession an impressive nine times.
There’s still a need for Navas to offer more creatively, but even the more illustrious performers struggled to create opportunities. He drew fouls and offered the team an out ball, and worked tirelessly to defend.
The winger was given a standing ovation when he left the field in the 77th minute, when Raheem Sterling took his place. Manager Pellegrini, however, bemoaned his side’s inability to trouble Keylor Navas. “We were not very creative and we didn’t create clear chances to score,” the Chilean groaned.
4. Otamendi has City future
Vincent Kompany’s organisational skills were evident once again, but his defensive partner showed why City were willing to invest heavily in him last summer – Nicolas Otamendi completed five tackles, made six interceptions and blocked three crosses in the game.
The 28-year-old has struggled for consistency in his first year in England, but he has produced his best performances in the biggest matches. He was excellent in games with Leicester and Manchester United earlier in the campaign, and in top form again in the encounter with Chelsea 10 days ago.
He and Kompany completed the highest amount of passes in this game, although neither made particularly probing balls into the attackers. The Argentine will have to display more endeavour in possession under Pep Guardiola next term, but the evidence suggests that he will be given the opportunity to prolong his stay in Manchester.
Otamendi had a productive relationship with Eliaquim Mangala when at Porto, but they have failed to strike up a similar understanding in the Premier League. With Kompany’s fitness issues still a concern for City, one of the two centre-backs will need to command the back four with more authority if they’re to stop Guardiola plunging into the transfer market before the end of August.