It’s Real Madrid who have progressed to their second Champions League final in three years with a 1-0 victory over Manchester City, both on the night and on aggregate. Madrid dominated throughout the match and outplayed their English opponents in every department to reach the final. Madrid take on their local rivals Atletico Madrid, who defeated Bayern Munich on away goals a night before. The 2015-16 final will be a repeat of the 2013-14 final, when Atletico Madrid were beaten 4-1 after extra time by Real Madrid, after they had been winning 1-0 till the 93rd minute of regulation time.
City started the match needing to score to win the match in normal time. But Madrid were too good for City, who were on the back foot from the starting of the game. And eventually after dominating for 20 minutes, Los Blancos opened the scoring with a Fernando own goal. It was a great move down the right hand side, as a terrific run by Gareth Bale was seen by Carvajal. The Welshman tried to cross the ball for Jese or Ronaldo to tap-in. But the ball struck the outstretched leg of Fernando and looped over Hart’s head, who could have done nothing about the goal. The only glorious opportunity for the Citizens fell for Fernandinho, who struck the outside of the post from just outside the box. Madrid then missed some very good chances to seal their victory, but in the end, a goal was enough to take them into their their 14th Champions League/European Cup final, the most by any team in the competition. Here are major talking points from the match.
It won’t be totally inappropriate to say that Manchester City were the easiest of all the fixtures for all the three teams. Les Merengues got lucky to be drawn against them, but the fact that they had to play the second leg at home was a terrifying thing. Although playing at home in the second leg is always considered to be advantageous, it has been the opposite in recent years. In the eight semi-finals played across the past four seasons, the team playing the second leg at home suffered the axe. Even the other semi-final of the current season went to Atleti, who played their second leg away from home. Madrid were cautious in the first leg of the tie, and made sure they don’t concede in England. And then another excellent defensive display at the Bernabeu helped them break the jinx that had continued for nine straight matches.
Will Ronaldo start against Manchester City? Is Ronaldo match fit? This must be the first thing in every Madrid fan’s browser history. It did happen, and there he was, the Portuguese superstar, standing amongst the starting eleven for Real Madrid. Ronaldo suffered a muscle injury in his thigh in a midweek league match against Villareal, while attempting an overhead kick. That had kept him out for two league matches and the first leg of the Champions League semi final. But he was deemed fit for the second leg to be played at the Bernabeu. Madrid surely looked more attacking with Ronaldo on the pitch, but he wasn’t as effective as he would have liked to be. But now he has three weeks to prepare for yet another Champions League final, and be fully fit by then.
One of the most surprising moves by Manuel Pellegrini was to keep Sterling on the bench and start with a rather less fit Yaya Toure. The fact that they needed at least a goal to win the match made this move all the more shocking. Toure hasn’t played in an attacking role for a long time now, and is widely regarded as a holding midfielder who can make runs and provide from the deep. His days of playing as an attacking midfielder had long gone, but still Pellegrini opted to field him, alongside two defensive midfielders Fernando and Fernandinho. Moreover, the four times African player of the year wasn’t 90 minutes fit. The move backfired as Toure often lost the ball and looked out of sorts when he had the ball. Sterling came on and looked way more dangerous than the big Ivorian, winning a free kick in a very dangerous position, only for De Bruyne to waste it.
Manchester City’s hopes of continuing their dream run this season were heavily dependent on the performances of two players, Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero. But both the players were totally quiet in both the legs, credit to the Madrid defence. De Bruyne, the current club record signing, has undoubtedly been the player of the season for City. And his playing style and vision combined with Aguero’s skills has been a killer combination. But against Madrid, they both looked way off their game, not knowing what to do when in possession. Sterling won a free kick in a very dangerous position for City, just outside the box near the by line. De Bruyne, instead of putting the ball in a dangerous territory, decided to go for goal and struck the side netting. Aguero hardly touched the ball, and scared Madrid once when he shot just over the crossbar from distance. But that was it from both the City men, as they cut a lone figure in City’s dismal display in the tie.
Yet again it was the man from Wales who made the difference for Real Madrid. Bale’s performances this season have been praised all across Europe, and since his return from injury, he has been unstoppable. In Ronaldo’s absence, all the responsibility to keep Madrid in the league has been on Bale. During Ronaldo’s absence, Bale scored three times in three matches, and the importance of those goals was enormous. He helped Madrid fight back against Rayo Vallecano after they were trailing 2-0 inside the first half hour. Bale scored twice, either side of Vasquez’s goal, to help Madrid secure a 3-2 victory and keep up the pressure on both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. He also struck the late winner against Real Sociedad this weekend to keep Madrid’s La Liga hopes alive. And he looked lively from the start against Manchester City, as his deflected cross-cum-shot found the back of the net, the goal that took Real Madrid closer to yet another Champions League crown.
The Champions League final will be played in Milan, Italy on the 28th of May at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, also known as San Siro – the home ground of the Milan clubs.