Real Madrid’s Champions League win at Man City – a study of survival and celebration

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Real Madrid’s Champions League win at Man City – a study of survival and celebration

On a night when Real Madrid gave absolutely everything on the pitch, exhausted bodies were suddenly transformed on the sight of Antonio Rudiger’s penalty sealing their place in the Champions League semi-finals.

Some embraced the scorer, others went for the man who stopped two of Manchester City’s spot-kicks, but everyone ran — except, that is, for their hero goalkeeper. Far from celebrating effusively, Andriy Lunin simply walked calmly back to the centre of the pitch, apparently unfazed.

Jude Bellingham was heading in the opposite direction, towards where the 3,000-plus Madrid fans were gathered. On reaching the away section, the England midfielder leaped into the seats to embrace and sing with them — and he wasn’t alone.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side had fought hard and they would celebrate hard. Once again the Madridistas had made it to a semi-final — their 12th in 14 years. In total, they have done it 33 times. The most successful club in the history of the European Cup/Champions League, with 14 trophies to date, and City — who beat them so soundly last season — were their latest victim.

How did they do it? For manager Ancelotti, it was all about “survival”.

Madrid will play Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals (Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

“We had to start the game strong, not like last year,” said the Italian, referencing the 4-0 defeat here in their semi-final second leg in May 2023.

“It worked out well because we scored early. Then we had to defend, fight, and sacrifice ourselves. It was the only way to stay alive in this tie. Madrid is a club based on always fighting to stay in situations where there seems to be no way out — but we always find a way.

“By the time the penalty shootout came, we were totally convinced we’d go through. This is about the only way you can come to City and win. You work, sacrifice and win however you can.”

That early goal came through Rodrygo on the counter attack, in the 12th minute. It was a sign things would be different to last year’s humbling loss.

However, as the minutes ticked by, and as Guardiola’s side were accumulating chances, Ancelotti was living it all on the sidelines. Talking to himself, waving his hands uncontrollably and at other times listening to his assistants Davide Ancelotti and Francesco Mauri, he was almost always standing. Los Blancos might survive, but the experience wasn’t going to be comfortable.

The Madrid coaches were insistently asking the defence to move forward because they were being penned back in their own area by City’s attacking pressure. It was all a delicate balancing act, constantly being refined.

“City have a very particular way of playing at home. They always try to subdue their opponents, but we knew that on the counter attack we were going to have chances,” Lucas Vazquez said later in the mixed zone.

“If you press City too high, they’ll score five goals,” Toni Kroos added with a smile.



Real Madrid beat Man City on penalties: Bellingham brilliance and who can stop Ancelotti’s team?

Before half-time, with the ball stopped after a foul was called, Bellingham came over to the touchline to speak with Ancelotti and his son Davide, discussing how to change the attacking play and make it more mobile.

As in the first leg, Rodrygo was deployed on the left flank but the idea was that Vinicius Junior and Bellingham — the two most advanced players — would swap positions. Bellingham relayed the instructions, but Madrid’s attack had few opportunities and, preoccupied with pressing, the front three were soon looking exhausted. Bellingham had to use an inhaler during a break on the hour mark.

Bellingham and Vinicius Jr celebrating in the away end (Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)

Antonio Rudiger’s slipped clearance gave Kevin de Bruyne the big chance his side were searching for, on 76 minutes played. The Belgian’s goal left Madrid seemingly sunk. A water bottle was sent crashed into the away team’s bench.

Ancelotti remained pensive, but his two assistants once again came out of their technical area to wake up their players, just as goalkeeping coach Luis Llopis had done a few minutes earlier. Everyone on the bench was contributing when they saw the players could not take it any more.

And some really did reach their limits. Vinicius Jr ran himself into the ground and was taken off in extra time, shortly before Dani Carvajal, who had to helped as he hobbled towards the bench.

“The best player of the game is the team,” Lunin said. “I don’t know how they could run like that, I couldn’t run like that for five minutes. They were all cramped, it’s normal.”

Lunin was mobbed by his Madrid team-mates in the celebrations (Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

It really was a night for the team — against City it could be no other way. It was illustrative to see how the group functioned, gathered in tightly after the end of 90 minutes and taking turns to address the task at hand. The Ancelottis spoke, Luka Modric spoke, Vinicius Jr spoke, Vaqzuez spoke. There was space for every member of the dressing room, and there were many leaders.

Despite the physical toll it took to get there, there was a mental boost from having taken the game into extra time, and Madrid believed in themselves again. Rudiger had a great chance to win the game after Brahim Diaz’s incisive pass.

But after Manchester City’s 33 shots, 18 corners and eight saves from Lunin, it went to penalties.

Davide Ancelotti prepared a piece of paper on which he wrote down the potential takers. That was a group effort too.

Ancelotti smiles as he reacts to Wednesday’s victory (Jan Kruger – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

“Thanks to Kepa’s help, and talking to the players, a couple of them were modified,” said the coach. “We are the ones who decide and if one says he is dead, we change. That’s how it’s done, but it comes from the coaching staff. The work of Llopis and Kepa has been key. Andriy has also been very good.

“Many wanted to take a shot. The only one who didn’t want to was Militao because Ederson said he knows him (from the Brazil team).”

During the penalty shootout, the Ancelottis — father and son — turned away from each other. They didn’t want to watch too much. Their job was done.

Lunin put it simply: “We had to choose and we all chose well.”

Bellingham had a little more to say.

“I’ve played against City before when you’ve been close and then all of a sudden they snatch it away from you,” he said.

“You have to work really hard to beat them. I was pretty much dead on my feet at the end and to win the game is a massive reward.

“Our biggest strength is that (Carlo Ancelotti) finds a way to let a lot of the boys play with freedom. That we’re so kind of ‘off the cuff’. As a man as well, he fills you with calmness and confidence.

“Before the game, I caught him yawning and I said to him: ‘Boss, are you tired?’ And he went: ‘Yeah, you need to go and excite me out there.’ That’s the kind of confidence and calmness he brings.

“You can look at moments of brilliance, moments of magic, but today it just came down to mentality.”

 (Top photo: Naomi Baker/Getty Images)