Two goals in the space of five minutes in the final quarter of an hour saw Manchester City come from behind and win, 2-1, at Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League, while Lyon shocked Juventus, 1-0, in the night’s other first-leg matchup.
City had fallen behind to Isco’s goal on the hour mark, but a Gabriel Jesus header and then Kevin De Bruyne’s penalty turned the tie around completely. A red card for Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, the 26th of his career, means he will miss the second leg, making matters worse for Real Madrid.
In France, Lucas Tousart’s strike on the half-hour mark gave Lyon a deserved victory over a very disappointing Juventus.
Here are three thoughts on the day in the Champions League:
Guardiola's tactics win out in the end
There was widespread surprise when Manchester City’s team was revealed and it excluded Fernandinho, Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and David Silva. As it turned out, Fernandinho had to be introduced in the 33rd minute after Aymeric Laporte was forced off injured. This was only Laporte’s fourth appearance since returning from ligament damage, but the fact he was able to walk off suggested the issue wasn’t too serious.
There was even greater surprise when the game began and it became apparent that it was not the slightly defensive 4-3-3 it had appeared, but something much more unorthodox, with Gabriel Jesus on the left and De Bruyne in the center alongside Bernardo Silva as twin false nines. The result was something that didn’t look much like City at all–occasional long balls to nobody, and a problem with counterattacking because its best midfield passer was playing so high up. After 20 minutes, City had had only 30 percent possession–but it had succeeded in restricting Madrid.
And that, uncharacteristic as it may have been, was surely the point. Pep Guardiola has been accused of overthinking big games, and has seen knockout ties in the Champions League lost with sudden flurries of goals. Such pragmatism is only ever judged by results, and on the hour mark, just as City was beginning to dominate, Isco struck. It was a goal set up by Vinicius but created by two errors, the first as Rodri and Nicolas Otamendi squandered possession and the second as Kyle Walker missed his tackle.
But just as it appeared this would be another disappointment away from home in the Champions League for Guardiola, two blocks from Fernandinho keeping the deficit down to one, Gabriel Jesus nodded De Bruyne’s clever cross down and past Thibaut Courtois. On came Sterling, and he was almost immediately tripped by Dani Carvajal. City had missed five of its previous seven penalties, but De Bruyne, who last took one four years ago, missing against Everton, converted coolly. With Madrid losing its discipline, Gabriel Jesus got in behind the defensive line and was tripped by Sergio Ramos, bringing an inevitable red card.
Real Madrid pedestrian in defeat
Perhaps it was all a result of Guardiola’s unexpectedly restrictive tactics, but it was hard to avoid the thought here that Real Madrid is a very limited side from an attacking point of view. Its strength domestically this season has been its defense – just 17 goals conceded in 26 league games–but there was very little here in the way of creativity. Before the Isco goal, which was a gift, the only clear chance Madrid created was Karim Benzema’s 30th-minute header, which was kept out by a superb save from Ederson. Vinicius then slipped as he stretched for the follow-up.
There were a couple of half-chances as City was forced to chase the game, but for a team of Madrid’s stature to generate so few chances at home is remarkable. With Barcelona struggling in a 1-1 draw away to Napoli on Tuesday, both Spanish giants seem far below the expected standards entering Sunday's Clasico that could go a ways in deciding La Liga's champion.
Disappointing Juventus has work to do
There has been a strange sense in this first set of Champions League last-16 ties that, other than Bayern, nobody is really in top form. Lyon, seventh in Ligue 1, and without injured captain Memphis Depay had looked as close to a bye as there can be at this stage of the Champions League. But it outplayed a disappointing Juventus for long spells and had already hit the bar through on-loan Villarreal forward Toko Ekambi when it took the lead after 32 minutes. Matthijs De Ligt was off the pitch having treatment for a head wound when Houssem Aouar’s cross from the left was met by the shin of Lucas Tousart and diverted past Wojciech Szczesny.
Juventus may still go through, but it is not playing well under Maurizio Sarri, and the possibility that the Cristiano Ronaldo gamble–that being the clear effort to win the Champions League again–will fail is looming larger with each passing game.