Is there a better all-round midfielder in the Champions League this season than Yaya Touré? While Xabi Alonso gave Manchester City a master class in passing, Touré was the visitors’ only threat in a first half which saw the Premier League champions struggle in the Spanish capital. However, when the Ivory Coast midfielder stretched his powerful legs and ran directly at Madrid’s defence, which was left in a fragile state following a traumatic trip to Seville on Saturday, it looked as if the Citizens might trouble Iker Casillas. The warning signs for José Mourinho’s side were there when Touré picked up the ball in City’s half and effortlessly brushed aside Michael Essien before slicing open the Madrid defence with an incisive pass which just evaded Samir Nasri. Minutes later, and the 29-year-old collected possession and offered relief to his ailing defence by streaking past both Essien and Alonso, running from his penalty area to Madrid’s, before squaring to David Silva – the Spain star took a poor touch and the chance evaporated. But finally, in the 68th minute, Touré wrestled the Group D opener into City’s grasp, albeit temporarily, as he strode past two opponents before releasing Edin Dzeko who calmly slotted his finish past Casillas. In the end, the former Barça man will be disappointed with the result following a loss to Madrid but the Ivorian can take heart from his own display, and surely on current form, is the world’s best in his position.
Joe Hart admitted earlier this summer that Real Madrid and Spain captain Iker Casillas was his idol growing up. However, on the Spaniard’s own home turf, Hart was in superb form to ensure Roberto Mancini’s side remained in the Group D opener for the majority of the match, particularly in the first half. The 25-year-old had to produce a save at full stretch to deny Cristiano Ronaldo in the seventh minute after the former Manchester United forward succeeded in bamboozling Vincent Kompany. Hart was on hand to deny Álvaro Arbeloa’s attempt moments later, before forcing Gonzalo Higuaín wide to end another Madrid opportunity. When City’s shot stopper was finally beaten in the second half, it took a deflection of Marcelo’s right-footed effort to deceive the former Shrewsbury Town goalkeeper. At 1-1, Madrid launched wave after wave of attacks in search of a vital three points in a bid to make a strong start in this season’s ‘Group of Death’, but Hart stood firm, and it was City who nicked what looked to be the winner when Aleksandar Kolarov’s inswinging free-kick crept past Casillas. However, Hart’s evening soon took a dramatic turn for the worst. With three minutes remaining, Karim Benzema’s sharp turn and snappy finish evaded the keeper’s desperate left hand, sending the Bernabéu into bedlam. It got even better for the home side as Ronaldo’s strike beat Hart in stoppage time, although Hart was unsighted by Kompany’s looming figure and an awkward bounce. In five dramatic minutes, Hart went from hero to zero, but in truth he can take solace from an impressive personal display as his stock continues to rise in Europe.
Mourinho’s side have struggled domestically this season, with Madrid already looking unlikely to defend their La Liga crown. The Spanish champions have suffered successive away defeats by Getafe and Sevilla in the league, prompting the Madrid manager to question his players’ appetite for silverware with Barcelona already eight points clear at the summit of the table. Twice against City, Madrid’s season appeared to be on life support, with the prospect of winning the Champions League enough to quench the insatiable hunger of the club – they have not lifted the European Cup since 2002. Ahead of their encounter, Mourinho’s men will have been buoyed by the knowledge that City lost three of five games on their European travels last term as they finished behind Bayern Munich and Napoli in a tough group. In addition, Mourinho has a good record against Premier League opposition, starting with Porto’s 3-2 aggregate success against Manchester United in 2004, before beating Chelsea 3-1 in the last-16 in 2010, and securing a 5-0 aggregate win against Tottenham Hotspur a season later. Perhaps with that record in mind, the English champions approached the game looking to contain their opponents, with Touré, Gareth Barry and Javi García providing extra cover for a defence manned by Kompany. But despite falling 1-0 and 2-1 behind, Madrid showed the character to keep pressing for a leveller which eventually came against a tiring City back four, and even with parity restored in the 87th minute, the home side were rewarded for the adventurous spirit with Ronaldo’s winning strike. After the win, Mourinho heaped praise on his players, saying: “The energy of my team is back. They proved if they want to be top professionals and respect Real Madrid’s history, they can. As a coach of a small team, I can lose many times, as a coach of Real Madrid, I don’t accept this”.
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