Vinicius Junior and Kevin De Bruyne exchanged scorching strikes as Real Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Manchester City in the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals on Tuesday.
Manchester City began the contest with the confidence of a team in the midst of a 20-game unbeaten run. However, with Madrid prepared to hunker behind the ball, dropping an extra white shirt back to make a defensive line of five at times, City’s possession rarely led to penetration.
As is so often the case with Madrid in this competition – their competition – Los Blancos struck against the run of play. Picking up the baton after a coast-to-coast surge from Eduardo Camavinga, Vinicius spanked a searing shot into the top corner from 25 yards.
Madrid eased into the ascendancy but, just like City, failed to match their good play with goals. De Bruyne did not suffer the same problem.
City had averaged more high turnovers than any side left in the Champions League coming into the semi-finals and won the ball back in the final third midway through the second half. Camavinga’s first slack pass of the evening was quickly funnelled to De Bruyne’s feet outside the D. Slicing through the ball with such power, De Bruyne was entirely airborne as his effort whizzed into the bottom corner, beyond Thibaut Courtois’ elastic reach.
Here are the Manchester City players that produced performances at both ends of the spectrum in an enthralling semi-final.
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Kevin De Bruyne: 9/10
So often Manchester City’s man for the big occasion. De Bruyne’s blistering strike on Tuesday night was his 11th Champions League knockout goal for City – no player in the history of the club has ever scored so many goals on such a stage.
While the deceptively burly Belgian may not have been at his all-action best at the Bernabeu, his crisp intervention ultimately proved decisive and ensures that the tie comes down to a one-off match where Manchester City have the home advantage.
John Stones: 6/10
Aside from De Bruyne, it was a night of subtlety among City’s other stars. John Stones warrants a word of praise for the disarming ease with which he has embraced the role of central midfielder.
In a midfield area bursting with Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan and De Bruyne, Stones hardly put a foot wrong when fulfilling his hybrid role.
Jack Grealish: 2/10
If Stones rose to the challenge, Grealish sank under the surface. Not for the first time on a Champions League trip to Madrid, Grealish let the opposition get under his skin.
Dani Carvajal revelled in his role as arch-disruptor on Tuesday, getting as close and uncomfortable as a hair shirt in the first half which Grealish never managed to shake.
Kyle Walker: 4/10
Tasked with arguably the toughest job in European football, Walker emphatically failed to muzzle Vinicius. It would be unfair to pin all the blame for the Brazilian’s influence on the England international but it would be no surprise if Nathan Ake replaces Walker should he regain fitness ahead of the second leg next Wednesday.