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Manchester City have a slim lead to defend in their Champions League semi-final second leg against Real Madrid after winning a thrilling first leg 4-3 at the Etihad on Wednesday (AEST).
The English champions may regret not killing off the 13-time winners after taking a two-goal lead on three occasions.
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Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva were all in for Pep Guardiola’s men, who should have scored a lot more.
But Karim Benzema’s brace and a brilliant individual effort from Vinicius Junior gave Madrid hope for another famous Champions League fight at the Santiago Bernabeu on May 4.
Guardiola lamented letting Liverpool escape ‘alive’ in the Premier League title race after a 2-2 draw at the Etihad nine days ago and will have similar regrets after a searing opener that could have see City go up 4-0 in half an hour.
Madrid were playing their 30th semi-final against City’s third, but the English giants lived up to their tag as pre-match favorites from the start.
Only 92 seconds had passed before Madrid’s rearguard was pierced by Riyad Mahrez’s quick feet and De Bruyne’s perfect cross to duck and pass Thibaut Courtois.
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Guardiola has often been criticized for overthinking his team selection at the commercial end of the Champions League.
But his decision to break the mold of the past two seasons and play Jesus as a central striker was inspired as the Brazilian led Real’s tattered defence.
Jesus surged to make it 2-0 after just 10 minutes after David Alaba failed to manage De Bruyne’s cross.
The Spanish champions-elect were without Casemiro and his absence showed when City ran through midfield on the counterattack at will.
Guardiola was furious with Mahrez after selfishly crashing into the side netting with Foden waiting for the cross for a tap.
Moments later, it was Foden who was blamed for squandering a glorious chance when he drove another pinpoint De Bruyne through the ball.
Benzema brought Madrid back from the dead to defeat Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea in the previous two rounds and again came to the rescue before half-time.
The Frenchman cushioned his 40th goal of the season on the center post of Ferland Mendy.
Still, Madrid’s good job of steadying the ship towards the end of the first half was undone in another slow start after the break.
Mahrez hit the post one-on-one with Courtois before Dani Carvajal blocked Foden’s follow-up down the line.
Fernandinho was forced to replace the right-back after replacing the injured John Stones in the first half.
And the City captain had a major role to play in two goals in two minutes either way.
First, he picked Foden to restore City’s two-goal lead. But the 36-year-old showed his age as Vinicius sprinted past his fellow Brazilian from the halfway line before passing Ederson.
City continued to create chances at an alarming rate for Carlo Ancelotti, but it took something special when they finally got a fourth.
Oleksandr Zinchenko was fouled at the edge of the area, but Romanian referee Istvan Kovacs played the advantage and Silva crashed into the top corner.
Again City failed to put the tie to bed as Mahrez was inches away from finding the far corner from the tightest angles.
But there was a final twist eight minutes from time when Aymeric Laporte took care of inside the box.
Benzema was the coolest man in the stadium as he struck the spot-kick through the middle to leave the scoreless on the razor’s edge towards the Spanish capital.
Manchester City: Ederson; Zinchenko, Laporte, Dias, Stones; Rodri, De Bruyne, B. Silva; Foden, Jesus, Mahrez
Real Madrid: Courteous; Mendy, Alaba, Militao, Carvajal; Kroos, Modric, Valverde; Vinicius, Benzema, Rodrygo
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