By Richard O’Reilly
Manchester City and Real Madrid played out a goalless draw, in a cagey first leg of their Champions League semi-final.
Manchester City were buoyed before kickoff, by the news that Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo would not play. The Madrid striker was ruled out of the squad after sustaining a thigh injury in their 3-0 win over Villarreal.
However, City were unable to capitalize on Ronaldo’s absence as chances in the game came at a premium. The best opportunities of the game came in the second half, when substitute Jese headed against the woodwork. City were then indebted to keeper Joe Hart for keeping out Pepe’s point-blank effort. City themselves, didn’t manage an effort on target until a late Kevin De Bryune free-kick was saved by Keylor Navas.
Ronaldo had been rested in Real Madrid’s 3-2 weekend win over Rayo Vallecano, and had been expected to feature at the Etihad stadium, however a simple ‘thumbs down’ from the Portuguese star to the BT Sport pundits confirmed that he would sit this one out. That news would have been welcome in the City dressing room, particularly with City captain Vincent Komapny, being fit and ready to marshal the rearguard.
The hosts pressed the Real Madrid midfield effectively in the first half, primarily through the impressive Fernandinho, however City found themselves rarely able to worry the Madrid back four. City were then left to bemoan the premature removal of David Silva on 41 minutes through injury. The Spanish midfielder was replaced by youngster Kelechi Ihenacho, but the striker who scored twice against stoke at the weekend was unable to affect the score line.
In the second half, the hosts managed to find space for Sergio Aguero to shoot from 20 yards, but the Argentine fired over. The former Athletico Madrid striker endured a frustrating game, with clear-cut chances being few and far between. He remains winless against his former cross-city rivals.
At the other end, Sergio Ramos squandered a free header from a Real Madrid corner when he directed his effort straight at Joe Hart. Real continued to press for a goal as they finished the match stronger than their Manchester counterparts. Jese headed against the bar and Pepe fired his close effort straight at Joe Hart, who had done well to make himself big to keep the effort out. Gareth Bale and Casemiro also came close to breaking the deadlock for Real, before De Bryune’s stoppage-time free-kick was saved.
The result leaves the tie finely poised for the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu. City will perhaps feel that an opportunity was missed to gain a foothold in the tie. The absence of Real Madrid’s most potent attacking threat should have boosted city’s chances. Without Ronaldo, their opponents seemed reluctant to commit men forward.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men will now almost certainly have to score at the Bernabeu on May 4th. Something which no team, other than Real Madrid has managed to do in the Champions League this season.