How and Where: Man City-Real Madrid clash ended in a dull draw

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Image Courtesy: © Facebook - Manchester City

How and Where: Man City-Real Madrid clash ended in a dull draw

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Debarshee Mitra

04/27/2016

With big reputations comes the risk of big disappointments, and Tuesday night was just that - two teams brimming with attacking potential, choosing to play safe. Vincent Kompany’s return ensured City were compact at the back, and Real’s cause wasn’t helped when Ronaldo was ruled out with an injury.

Neither manager brave enough

To be honest, we have all been here before. “Zinedine Zidane opts for a cautious approach in massive win versus Barcelona”. Also the fact that Zidane had no Ronaldo this time around meant the application of the same strategy wouldn’t be as effective. What was surprising, however, was that even Pellegrini opted for an overly sensible approach. Maybe, it was stage fright. City have obviously never come this far in the tournament, and a safety-first approach against a potent attack made sense. Also the fact that they had David Silva on their side did not help either. The Spaniard, who has looked a shadow of his own self recently, struggled to thread any pass of note to the forward line to create an opening. The attacking game for City looked much more fluid once Kelechi Iheanacho came on to replace Silva in the first half. But still there were no runs into the box, and thus ensuring whatever the wide men created went to waste.

As the season progressed, City’s attack has lifted off Silva’s shoulders and fallen firmly on those of Kevin de Bruyne, and it was no surprise that the home side looked ineffective with de Bruyne having an off night. City’s bluntness and lack of creativity could be summed up by the fact that Sergio Aguero had one shot at goal in the entire game.

As far as Madrid were concerned, they continued to give the impression that the best shot they would have at a goal was either from a set-piece or from an act of individual brilliance by Gareth Bale. Bale enjoyed a much more central role, with freedom to float in the second half after the withdrawal of Karim Benzema. But City had a clear game plan against the Welshman, fouling him whenever he had a free channel to run into. That did not stop Bale from taking five punts at goal, more than the entire Man City side. Like his teammate Benzema, Bale was also kept under check whenever he came up against City’s last line of defence in Vincent Kompany.

Kompany proves his worth

Like he has done so many times in the past. One wonders where Man City would have finished if they had their skipper fit throughout the season, and on the evidence of the performance on Tuesday night, the answer would be higher than where they are finishing now. Only a month back, Mangala and Demichelis started for City in the Manchester derby against a vibrant but not so reputed attack, and ended up looking at sixes and sevens. On Tuesday night, City came up against the much more illustrious forces of Benzema and Bale, ably supported by Modric and Kroos in the middle, but none of them could get past City’s backline. Kompany, who has always been a “front foot defender” more than a hard-tackling hardcore player, took the initiative and won the ball and got into the psyche of the Madrid players. He intercepted and nipped the Madrid attack in the bud five times, as well as clearing the ball on six occasions. The captain’s performance and overall dominance at the back influenced the players around him as well, as Otamendi and Clichy made six interceptions each as well. Even from a non-statistical point of view, it was visible that the relatively-slower Otamendi looked much more assured with Kompany by his side. As for Gael Clichy, he was selected ahead of Kolarov for this very reason - his ability to defend and the Frenchman was on his toes the entire game, prioritizing his defensive game.

Toni Kroos’ star shines bright

When the lineups were announced, it was pretty much what was anticipated, Real Madrid’s 4-3-3 against Man City’s 4-2-3-1. A two-man midfield versus a three-man midfield and the composition of the two midfields was very interesting. Man City had Fernando and Fernandinho, both primarily defensive midfielders, supported by de Bruyne in the attacking role. Real had Casemiro for the brute, Modric for the flair and Kroos for the ability from range and yet all three could interchangeably play each other’s role as should be the case in any three-man midfield. However, it was Toni Kroos who could do no wrong on the night. While Modric brought the party tricks to the Etihad with some sublime passes - an outside-of-the-boot pass to an onrushing Marcelo being the standout one - Kroos went about his job silently. Completing only a humble 98% of his passes, Kroos always looked in control. Partly because Man City never looked in control of the game, and surrendered possession cheaply to the away side. Having said that, Kroos ensured that City surrendered possession by producing three tackles in the game, and shined in a midfield that saw Modric perform at an extremely high level himself. If Real are to progress, they will need more of the same from the duo in a week’s time in Madrid.

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