Manchester: After one of the greatest of Champions League semi-finals, Manchester City will take a 4-3 lead into the second leg of their tie against Real Madrid following an extraordinary encounter at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.
A breathtaking and relentlessly fast game, packed with chances, moments of individual brilliance and a smattering of defensive lapses, was a treat for the spectators but leaves City, who had the better of the game, with the slenderest of leads to defend at the Santiago Bernabeu next Wednesday.
City took the lead after 94 seconds, the fastest goal scored in a Champions League semi-final, with Kevin De Bruyne’s superb diving header after Riyad Mahrez made a piercing run at the Real defence, switched inside and then delivered a killer cross.
Pep Guardiola’s side doubled their lead in the 11th minute through the in-form Gabriel Jesus, who scored four goals in the Premier League at the weekend, collecting a pass from De Bruyne and spinning away from David Alaba before drilling home.
It was the first time that 13-times European champions Real had conceded two goals so quickly in the Champions League and another looked on the cards.
City were on fire, running Real ragged, but Mahrez and Phil Foden were both unable to convert promising chances.
It was a spell of the game that City may yet look back on as a missed opportunity and as so often Real found a way to get themselves back in a contest that risked running away from them.
The goal came via a familiar source, the Champions League’s escape artist Karim Benzema scoring a goal out of nothing as he guided a Ferland Mendy cross into the far, bottom corner with the most delicate of steers after 33 minutes.
Guardiola could be forgiven for wondering how his team’s high-energy, high-quality football had only produced a 2-1 lead at the break but there was to be a similar pattern after the interval.
City restored a two-goal advantage eight minutes after the restart with veteran Fernandinho, on as a substitute for the injured John Stones, picking out Phil Foden with a perfectly weighted cross which the England international nodded home.
Two minutes later though Fernandinho was caught out as he allowed Brazilian compatriot Vinicius Jr to break away past him on the touchline. The winger sprinted from the halfway line deep into the area before poking the ball past Ederson to make it 3-2 with an outstanding solo effort.
Yet again City found a way through. Real’s defence hesitated after Oleksandr Zinchenko went down on the edge of the box but Bernardo Silva pounced and beat Thibaut Courtois with a superb drive into the top corner in the 74th minute.
But there was still more drama to come as City’s Aymeric Laporte was penalised when the ball struck his arm in the area and Benzema converted the penalty with a cheeky ‘Panenka’ chip down the middle eight minutes from the end.
Still City searched for more but Raheem Sterling and Ruben Dias were both unable to make contact with a dangerous ball across the box and then Dias slid in and was just inches away from a deep Mahrez cross.
The score was to remain 4-3 but for those who wished this game could have just gone on and on there is another 90 minutes to look forward to next week.
City, yet to be crowned European champions, were left with the strange feeling of disappointment at ‘only’ beating Real by one goal.
“Over the 90 minutes it felt like we could have won by a better score,” said Bernardo Silva.
“Unfortunately we were not able to take advantage of our two-goal differences that we had three times. It is the Champions League, we play one of the best teams in the world. It is still a good result. On to the next game.”