Luck, brilliance or magic? Man City suffer the full Real Madrid experience on crazy Champions League night

Despite conceding four goals at the Etihad Stadium, Los Blancos will still fancy themselves in the Champions League semi-final second leg next week

Manchester City won the game, or at least that is what the scoreboard said, because somehow it felt like they had lost.

They had had the Real Madrid experience, part one of it anyway.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side were pulled apart by the hosts at the Etihad Stadium, letting in four goals and it could have been more, yet they head back to the Spanish capital still believing they will reach the Champions League final.

Madrid seem to get more luck in high-pressure games than any other side, but whether or not that is true, what is undoubted is they have the mindset and players to capitalize on good fortune when it comes their way. They are ready and willing to roll with the punches.

Pep Guardiola and City triumphed 4-3, but missed a host of opportunities and after going two goals up within 11 minutes. Madrid kept pegging back City, with a Karim Benzema brace and a brilliant Vinicius Junior solo goal.

Every time the hosts crept ahead, Madrid appeared with a goal, out of nothing.

“We’re never happy with a defeat,” Vinicius Junior said after the game, although he was grinning widely. “We have the second half to go, we can improve and get through to the final.”

Los Blancos’ defending was shocking, but City’s finishing was equally profligate and on another night they would have racked up a bigger score.

“Madrid let in four and left the Etihad with the sensation of winning. They lost a game 4-3 that they deserved to lose 8-3,” wrote Marca.


It has been that kind of tournament so far for the record 13-time Champions League winners, somehow scraping through in each round, despite evident inferiorities to their opponents.

Kylian Mbappe and Paris Saint-Germain dominated at home in the last 16, but were only able to take a 1-0 lead to Madrid after Lionel Messi missed a penalty.

In the second leg, the France striker continued to tear strips out of the hosts at Santiago Bernabeu and scored what looked like a decisive second goal, but that is when the magic happened.

Magic, at least, from Madrid’s perspective.

Gianluigi Donnarumma’s mistake allowed Benzema to strike and fuel Madrid’s belief they could come back, and the French forward went on to score twice more to complete a stunning 17-minute hat-trick as PSG mentally crumbled.

no matter; next up were Chelsea, who successfully dismantled Zinedine Zidane’s side the year before in the semi-finals.

However Madrid met the Blues in the perfect moment after the international break, and like Brentford, who thrashed Chelsea 4-1 a few days earlier, they secured a strong 3-1 first-leg lead.

It was, in part, thanks to another bizarre piece of goalkeeping by Edouard Mendy, who surrendered the ball to Benzema a long way out of his goal, and the ex-Lyon star pounced to net the third.


Chelsea were back in shape by the second leg and, like PSG and Manchester City, dominated Madrid, going 3-0 up, before an improbable Roy-of-the-Rovers assist from Luka Modric allowed Rodrygo to force extra-time.

The inevitable Benzema appeared again, capitalizing on an Antonio Rudiger slip, to head home what proved to be the winner.

In Guardiola and Manchester City offered, the semi-final another chance for Madrid’s luck to end.

City roared into the lead with strikes from Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus, and destruction looked imminent.

But Benzema, in his 600th game for Real Madrid, equalling the legendary Paco Gento, was of course the man to pull his team back into the game, finishing brilliantly while under pressure.

And after Phil Foden restored City’s advantage, it was Vinicius who kept Real Madrid alive with a brilliant individual strike.

Madrid survived by the skin of their teeth as Riyad Mahrez missed huge openings. And just when it looked like Bernardo Silva had given the hosts a two-goal advantage ahead of the second leg, there was another big stroke of fortune.

Aymeric Laporte needlessly handled the ball and Benzema executed a brilliant Panenka penalty to leave everything open next week at Santiago Bernabeu.

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“The most important thing is never to give up until the end,” warned Benzema, who has 14 Champions League goals so far this season.

“We are going to do something magical… which is winning.”

At this point, it seems like folly to bet against it. Madrid can harness their luck for two key reasons.

One, is ‘King Karim’, who is in the form of his life. The Ballon d’Or frontrunner has 41 goals from 41 games this season, and if given the opportunity, can make the impossible happen.

After missing two penalties in his previous game against Osasuna, he took an ice-cool spot-kick to beat Ederson – and that calm is the other reason.

“In the moment, it’s very important to not lose your heads,” said Ancelotti. “That’s a characteristic of this team. We’ve seen it so many times. The shoulders never drop. The heads remain cold.”

His team have the self-belief that they will win games that other teams would believe they have lost. It has been the same for much of the past decade.

Of Madrid’s four Champions League triumphs in the last eight years, they were probably the best side in the competition just once. But each time, they believed they would prevail and maintain that belief even in adverse situations, when logic begged them not to.

While other sides so comprehensively outplayed by Man City would be dreading a home humiliation next Wednesday, instead Madrid will be expecting to reach Paris.

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