“Hasta the final” is a slogan that goes beyond a simple silly phrase when it comes to Real Madrid and European competitions. Wednesday night was another example of another magical night at the Santiago Bernabeu. Real Madrid came out another seemingly impossible situation. With their backs to the wall, they always seem to find a way.
Real Madrid’s 2021-22 knockout campaign has been one stunning comeback after another.
City lined up in their traditional 4-3-3 formation with the roster’s biggest surprise being the inclusion of Kyle Walker who was struggling with his fitness. Carlo Ancelotti made the choice to go with Fede Valverde on the right flank and Nacho started on an injured David Alaba in defence. With Casemiro back in the midfield base, Madrid now had a protective presence protecting the defence.
Let’s see what the numbers say about the game.
Game Flow and Threat Creation
The game flow map sums up the game perfectly. A wary affair in the first half where City largely looked the better of both sides, they looked like they might be able to close up shop after pushing forward until the Gene of Madrid’s clutch comes into play. Even beyond that in the AET, City were able to muster opportunities only to be denied by the Belgian wall in Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Ferland Mendy also made a heroic final clearance from the line to keep the tie within reach.
Madrid started the second half with flying colors and looked likely to get the equalizer to bring the level level on aggregate. The biggest change of momentum in Real Madrid’s favor came around the 85th minute with the substitution of Fernandinho. It was then that City switched to a double pivot and Madrid found space between midfield two and the front four to exploit. Rodrygo then brought things level in the 89th minute and Madrid quickly capitalized on the momentum and turned things around.
You could say that Madrid opted for a more chaotic/open game with substitutes Marco Asensio and Eduardo Camavinga in the 75th minute while continuing the game.
City largely dominated the ball with 53% of possession, but managed to hold their territory on the opposition with a 60% tilt in their favor. Madrid managed 185 total attacking third touches in the game but were able to enter the box with 37 of them, while City registered 236 touches in the final third with just 32 of them inside. the 18-yard penalty area.
Looking at where both teams created the most threats from, we can notice some trends. For Man City, the key area was ‘Area 14’. City would drive into that space and then find a wide player going inside, a pattern through which the goal was also scored. With the introduction of Jack Grealish, they were able to create danger from the left reduction zone using his take-over ability.
For Real Madrid, the two hotspots appear on the right side and one inside the box on the left near the line (the spot from where Karim Benzema assisted the first goal). Real Madrid’s left-side bias towards randomization has been evident throughout the season and on this occasion too Vinicius has been slipped several times. The second goal came from a cross from the wide right area near the touchline; an area that Madrid have consistently targeted following Oleksander Zinchenko’s substitution in the game.
Ancelotti’s deployment of Valverde was as expected. The Uruguayan fell back and mostly operated from half-space, leaving Madrid devoid of width on the right side. It was not until the arrival of Rodrygo Goes that Ancelotti’s men began to find a gap on this side. One of the positive aspects of Valverde’s inclusion is the fact that it helped Madrid deal with Joao Cancelo’s threat to advance as well as his movement into the half-space.
City’s pressing structure has prevented Madrid from having exchanges between centre-backs, as can be seen with the lack of connection between the two in the team’s passing network. CBs were constantly forced into long balls with Nacho attempting 14 long balls and Eder Militao attempting 12. Militao was particularly devoid of options in these scenarios, with the Brazilian only completing four of those 12 long balls.
Kyle Walker largely dealt with the threat of Vinicius Jr down the left with his recovery pace and kept him in check. He was slightly conservative compared to Cancelo on the other flank and stayed close to Ruben Dias to keep things under control. Rodri Hernandez sat at the base with Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva dropping deep to either side to provide support to bond together if needed.
It was a vintage performance from Dani Carvajal, which has gone from strength to strength since the start of the year. He was brilliant defending the box and with his passing in the final third, created an opportunity early in the second half for Vinicius. He also played the cross into the box for the second goal which pushed the tie into AET.
Carvajal was also relentless on the flank – consistently providing support on the overlap for Rodrygo. Grealish gave him some late game problems but it was a solid performance from the Spaniard.
Bernardo Silva was omnipresent on the pitch. It was almost as if there were several on the ground at the same time. His defensive contribution was incredible, but so was his contribution in the final third. He snagged the assist for City’s only goal of the night as he entered the vacant space ahead of him between midfield and Madrid’s defensive lines in the final third. His ability in tight spaces was phenomenal, completing five of his seven catches.
Rodrygo is the new Mr. Champions League currently at Real Madrid. The Brazilian has been in a vein of rich form since April and has been scoring clutch goals in the UCL since his debut in the competition. His movement and positioning inside the box has been exceptional in recent weeks. He scored the brace that kick-started the momentum and brought Madrid back into the game. He could also have had a hat trick to seal the deal. His introduction helped Madrid get width down the right flank, stretching City’s backline in the process.
Camavinga’s performance was exceptional, his ability to cover the pitch, to recognize space, to carry the ball, as well as his very unique but effective tackling ability allowed Madrid to open the game. His movement into space on the right to receive the ball from Courtois and then drive the ball upwards was an integral part of the move that earned Madrid the decisive penalty.
Madrid will now face familiar foes in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in Paris for a shot at their 14th UCL title on May 28.