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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 22 May 2024

Champions League: Madrid's adaptability, shock & awe one week, mean defending the next

Madrid's victory over Manchester City after penalty shootout sent it to record 17th semi-final appearance and kept it on course to add to their unequaled haul of 14 European Cups

AP/PTI Manchester Published 19.04.24, 11:08 AM
Picture above: Andriy Lunin of Real Madrid saves Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva’s penalty during the Champions League quarter final second leg shoot-out at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday. Picture below: Antonio Ruediger beats City goalkeeper Ederson to score the decisive penalty for Real Madrid

Picture above: Andriy Lunin of Real Madrid saves Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva’s penalty during the Champions League quarter final second leg shoot-out at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday. Picture below: Antonio Ruediger beats City goalkeeper Ederson to score the decisive penalty for Real Madrid Getty Images

Antonio Ruediger stared down the goalkeeper, took a deep breath, and drilled home the decisive penalty, proving once again there is no tougher task in club football than beating Real Madrid in the Champions League.

Madrid's victory over Manchester City after a penalty shootout on Wednesday sent it to a record 17th semi-final appearance and kept it on course to add to their unequaled haul of 14 European Cups.

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It was fitting that Ruediger finished off City after he anchored a spirited defensive effort by Madrid that weathered wave after wave of attacks by Pep Guardiola's side.

For Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, it was a question of survival.

“There was only one way to get out of here alive. We had to dig in and fight hard,” Ancelotti said.

“We showed the attitude and commitment demanded by this jersey. This is a very special competition for us and we always deliver something that people are not expecting us to produce. Everyone was writing us off but we're still here.”

Those football purists who delight in Guardiola's passing-and-pressure game (think Barcelona fans) like to say Madrid lack a distinctive style. But as Ancelotti has said, he doesn't want his team to have a “set philosophy” that would make it predictable; his team must be chameleonic so it can adapt to each rival, each game, each moment.

City completely dominated the ball in the away leg of their quarter final in Manchester — even though they never led and needed Kevin De Bruyne to cancel out Rodrygo's opener — and hemmed mighty Madrid into their box for most of the match and extra time.

But Madrid showed that their strength lies in their ability to do whatever is needed to get a win. Ancelotti's bunch matched City's scoring prowess last week in the 3-3 draw in Spain's capital, and then at Etihad Stadium they had no qualms packing their area and hanging on for dear life.

Ruediger solidified his status as Madrid's sheriff at the back. The Germany player has also helped Madrid lead the Spanish league after fellow central defenders David Alaba and Eder Militao went down with injury earlier in the season.

Last season, when City beat Madrid in the semi-final on their way to winning the title, Ruediger was left on the bench at the start of a 4-0 loss in Manchester. This time, he played both legs that ended 4-4 on aggregate.

De Bruyne's equaliser came after Rudiger's only blemish of an otherwise superb outing when the City midfielder fired in a ball the defender failed to clear. Otherwise, Rudiger bossed the area and again kept Erling Haaland scoreless.

“Normally, we're the ones who dominate our opponents,” said Nacho Fernandez, Ruediger's partner in central defence who also scored in the shootout. “We showed the other side, defending spectacularly and doing an incredible job in the lower-middle block.”

And when City's talented passers did manage to create a rare opening in Madrid's box, there was Andriy Lunin to stop them.

The Ukrainian goalkeeper entered the preseason as the backup to the injured Courtois Thibaut and had to earn the starting job after Kepa Arrizabalaga's arrival. Lunin was the team's saviour on Wednesday night after stopping penalties by Bernardo Silva and Mateo Kovacic. His saves tilted the shootout in Madrid's favour after Luka Modric missed their first kick.

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