Gundogan treatment shows Ancelotti concern
Carlo Ancelotti downplayed the impact of Erling Haaland on this semi-final, telling Real Madrid to do what so many managers have tried and failed to manage this season – stop the service and stop him scoring. Maybe Ancelotti’s stance was because he had spotted a more influential Manchester City player to concentrate on, with Ilkay Gundogan targetted from the first minute after his two-goal show against Leeds at the weekend.
Gundogan played a little further forward than at the weekend, asked to turn on the ball and keep City on the front foot. In response, Germany teammates Antonio Rudiger and Toni Kroos both left Gundogan needing treatment after ‘challenges’ that saw Pep Guardiola furious.
With the noise over Gundogan’s future growing, especially with his performances underlining his importance to the Blues, it was telling that Real went to such great lengths to minimise his influence. Maybe it’s a good idea to keep hold of a player who worries a manager like Carlo Ancelotti so much?
Real’s brutal reminder
City won’t need any reminding of what happened the last time they were at the Bernabeu. Having dominated a first leg but conceding three times, City were en route to the 2022 final until two injury-time goals broke their hearts. In truth, City were the better time across both legs last year, but Real just wouldn’t be beaten and kept themselves in the game despite being second-best for long periods.
So it was unsurprising this year’s semi-final followed the same pattern. City dominated the ball with 72 per cent possession in the opening half-hour, creating chances and frustrating the home fans. But Real are masters of the counter, and Vinicius Jr’s rocket after Eduardo Camavinga’s driving run was a brutal reminder that they are never out of a game in the Champions League.
City will take confidence from their first-leg performance. They will also take a useful reminder – not that they needed it – of Real’s never-say-die attitude, as well as the need to kill off the Champions League holders when they have the chance.
Pep’s trusted quintet
In the last four Champions League games – a must-win clash with Leipzig, two legs against Bayern Munich and at Real Madrid – Pep Guardiola has gone with experience over form or any tactical gambles. Rodri has been ever-present in midfield, Ilkay Gundogan has stepped up for the big games, as has Kevin De Bruyne, and Bernardo Silva has got the nod ahead of Riyad Mahrez. With Jack Grealish on the left, Guardiola has clearly settled on a big-game midfield and wing-pairing to support Erling Haaland.
When the quintet of Rodri, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Bernardo and Grealish have started this season, City were unbeaten going into the Bernabeu, with seven wins and two draws. In the tenth iteration of the formation, City dominated proceedings and were unlucky to fall behind in the first half through Vinicius Jr’s rocket.
No help from the referee
Toni Kroos’ cynical chop on Ilkay Gundogan on the stroke of half-time was a clear booking, yet it was a surprise when the yellow card was brandished because of what had gone before. Dani Carvajal had fouled Jack Grealish four times, and had unsubtly barged the winger into the advertising screens for good measure when the ball had gone. The full-back then escaped punishment for his embarrassing reaction to Grealish rejected an arm of apology, which should have earned him a second yellow for playacting. Yet it was Kroos who was first in the book.
Antonio Rudiger didn’t even concede a free kick when he repeated his Champions League final trick of bodychecking a City midfielder. In Porto it was Kevin De Bruyne, this time it was Gundogan. On the touchline, Guardiola was in the ear of the fourth official at the number of strong Madrid challenges going unpunished.
In this competition, City still have work to do to topple Madrid as Kings of Europe. It appears that aura may extend to the officials, so City know they have to make their own luck at the Etihad – and the fans will be needed to help persuade next week’s referee of his decision-making.
De Bruyne shows his class
Arguably Kevin De Bruyne’s best individual performance for City came at the Bernabeu in 2020, when City truly announced themselves to Europe with a brilliant 2-1 win in the last-16 first leg. De Bruyne has followed that up with plenty of big moments and big goals when it matters – the recent win over Arsenal the latest example – and he added another to the collection on Tuesday