Madrid: Kevin De Bruyne orchestrated a dramatic Manchester City comeback on Wednesday as they stunned Real Madrid 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu to put one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Madrid looked on course to edge a cagey contest after Isco’s smart finish early in the second half, but De Bruyne teed up Gabriel Jesus in the 78th minute and then tucked away a penalty in the 83rd.
A pulsating finish also saw Sergio Ramos sent off for preventing Jesus from going clear and Madrid’s captain will now be banned for the second leg at the Etihad Stadium on March 17, when City’s two away goals will make them heavy favourites to go through.
Pep Guardiola sprung another Champions League surprise by picking a line-up nobody predicted, with De Bruyne up front and Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho all on the bench.
But his gamble paid off handsomely, even if Nicolas Otamendi made the mistake that led to Isco’s opener while an injury to Aymeric Laporte meant Fernandinho had to be introduced midway through the first half.
Laporte was seen walking around the pitch but must now be doubtful to play in Sunday’s League Cup final against Aston Villa.
Guardiola insisted on Tuesday that UEFA’s two-year ban, pending City’s appeal, would not act as a spur for his players but it was very much on the minds of their travelling fans, who were singing against European football’s governing body from almost the first minute.
Either way, City now have a golden opportunity to make a statement by knocking out Real Madrid, the competition’s most successful club in its history.
Zinedine Zidane’s team was more predictable, even if Toni Kroos, one of his most consistent performers, was left on the bench.
These are the sort of nights when Gareth Bale can find his best but Vinicius Junior took the spot on the left.
The opening half was tentative, summed up by Ederson at one point playing for time by stalling on the ball and being allowed to by Madrid, who also refused to press him.
If both team’s priority was to stifle, they were largely successful as City seemed content to let Madrid have the ball, as long as Jesus and Riyad Mahrez were ready to race away on the break.
Jesus cut inside Raphael Varane and had a clear sight of goal only to shoot straight at Thibaut Courtois. On the stroke of half-time, the Brazilian struck again, this time after a weak Thibaut Courtois punch, but Ramos blocked and Fede Valverde hacked away from the line.
In between, Real went close too. Karim Benzema’s header was palmed out by Ederson and Vinicius looked certain to tap in the rebound yet slipped at the crucial moment, five yards out and with the goal at his mercy.
Laporte had gone off but City enjoyed their best spell after the break.
Casemiro carelessly conceded possession and De Bruyne tore away, feeding Mahrez, who cut in and curled wide. Jesus drove another shot straight at Courtois.
Zidane considered a change and Bale warmed up, only for Madrid to take the lead.
Otamendi failed to control a Rodri pass and Vinicius broke, with Kyle Walker and Fernandinho rushing to meet him.
They left Isco free behind them and Vinicius picked him out, giving the Spaniard a simple finish.
The hosts smelt an opportunity for a second as Dani Carvajal weaved through and Ramos’ volley was deflected over by Fernandino.
But Bale and Sterling both came on and shortly after, the tide turned.
In the 78th minute, De Bruyne’s clipped cross was too high for Ramos at the back post and Jesus behind him nodded down, his header enough to beat a weak right hand from Courtois.
And five minutes later, City scored again, this time Carvajal at fault, sliding late on Sterling in the area. De Bruyne made no mistake with the penalty and it was City’s fans still singing, long after the final whistle.