Manchester City and Real Madrid played out a cagey goalless draw in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday. It was an encounter that one would kindly describe as tactical, with scoring opportunities few and far between.
Indeed, the first half was characterized by its complete absence of chances. Both sides exchanged spells in possession, defended compactly and ensured both Joe Hart and Keylor Navas spent the first 45 minutes twiddling their thumbs between the goalposts.
The biggest talking point was instead an injury to City's David Silva, who was forced off after stretching to bring down Gareth Bale with just over five minutes of the half remaining. Young Kelechi Iheanacho entered in his place, with manager Manuel Pellegrini forced into a premature reshuffle.
However, the truth of the matter was that Silva hadn't meaningfully influenced proceedings through an opening period in which Real's massed defensive ranks proved effective at snuffing out any space between the lines. Halftime arrived with the game still goalless, and without anyone having even looked like breaking the deadlock.
City started the second half with a rare glimpse of goal, though the anonymous Sergio Agüero couldn't get goalside of the Madrid defense and blazed a wild shot over Navas' crossbar. Real responded with a half-chance of their own, though Ramos leaped to head a corner straight into the arms of a grateful Hart.
Inside the final 20 minutes Real had another headed opportunity, though Jesé's effort came back off the top of the crossbar with Hart attentive. With 10 left on the clock they went closer still, though Pepe smashed the ball straight at the City keeper from a corner in the only clear-cut chance of the match.
The flashes of excitement proved nothing more than that, with City's last opportunity coming when a De Bruyne snapshot was tipped over by Navas in stoppage time. The final whistle sounded with the game still goalless.
Manchester City: Joe Hart; Gaël Clichy, Nicolás Otamendi, Vincent Kompany, Bacary Sagna; Fernando, Fernandinho; David Silva (Kelechi Iheanacho 40'), Kevin De Bruyne, Jesús Navas (Raheem Sterling 77'); Sergio Agüero.
Real Madrid: Keylor Navas; Marcelo, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal; Toni Kroos (Isco 90'), Casemiro, Luca Modrić; Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema (Jesé 46'), Lucas Vázquez.
1. This was not the game we expected
These sides have frequently been comedically bad at the back this season, with their defenses often undermining their excellent attacks. It was therefore reasonable to expect an exciting feast of attacking football here, notwithstanding the importance of the fixture. But instead, it was a game characterized by its caginess, with both teams defending reasonably well but not attacking with sufficient precision. Neither side seemed to get their balance quite right.
2. Real Madrid lacked fluidity
To say that Real Madrid missed the injured Cristiano Ronaldo is obvious. But the exact manner in which they missed him is not. Of course, every team could always do with a player of Ronaldo's talent, but his absence had knock-on structural effects that stunted their build-up play throughout the game. When they attacked down the left, full-back Marcelo was often left completely isolated, with Ronaldo replacement Lucas Vázquez wandering too far infield, and midfielder Toni Kroos failing to offer much in the way of support in a peculiarly conservative performance. Without their talisman in the side, Real seem to lose all fluidity.
3. Zizou needs some bigger trousers
Let's just be thankful for that overcoat.