Champions League Live: Manchester City Leads Real Madrid, 2-0, at Halftime

Rory Smith

May 17, 2023, 3:52 p.m. ET

Remarkable as it might sound, Manchester City is leading by two goals in a Champions League semifinal and yet has every right to be just a little disappointed. Pep Guardiola’s team has the advantage over Real Madrid, of course. It has one foot in the final in Istanbul in June. Strictly speaking, though, this tie should be over, and Real should be scrambling for nothing but self-respect.

City’s superiority was such that it was obvious, visible, indisputable. This iteration of Real Madrid is more comfortable than most of its predecessors with the idea that it might not be able to monopolize the ball; among its many admirable traits is an ability to endure, to survive, and then to strike when an opportune moment arises.

There are different forms of suffering, though, and this was not the sort that can be weathered. City pinned Real Madrid back not just into its own half but into its own penalty area. Real’s players, some of the most composed and controlled on the planet, most of them veterans of multiple Champions League victories, seemed harried and frantic.

Luka Modric gave the ball away. Toni Kroos gave the ball away. Vinícius Júnior, all on his own on the left wing, forlornly urged his teammates to consider, maybe, stepping out just a little bit, as if trying to draw them from their protective shell. Federico Valverde, in midfield, wandered round, lost, wondering where all these light blue jerseys were coming from.

The first goal, when it arrived, was both warranted and predictable. City had fired a couple of shots across the visitor’s bows, Thibaut Courtois twice denying Erling Haaland, when Bernardo Silva drifted inside, completely unmarked, and rifled a shot past him. The Etihad Stadium erupted, as if a valve had been loosened.

At that point, Real’s only hope was to try to survive until half-time, to withstand the pressure, to stay in the game. And then, just as it was starting to assert itself a little — Vinícius finally building up some speed, Kroos hitting the bar — City struck again, Bernardo heading home after Courtois had denied Ilkay Gundogan.

The mythology of the Champions League states that this is Real Madrid, of course, and so nothing can be discounted. Cold reality, though, would suggest it is an awfully long way back from here.

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