UEFA's Technical Observer panel analyses the tactics that underpinned Real Madrid's remarkable comeback against Manchester City in the semi-finals.
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Real Madrid's remarkable semi-final comeback against Manchester City last week was widely labelled as a triumph of their never-say-die spirit. Carlo Ancelotti's men plugged into the power of the Santiago Bernabéu to climb off the ropes and snatch victory from Manchester City, just as they had done against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea in previous rounds.
Looking ahead to their final showdown against Liverpool, the UEFA Technical Observer Panel considers the key footballing features of their success against City in this article presented by Fedex. Starting with a look at the aggressive pressing of their full-backs, the panel also highlights the excellence of stalwarts Thibaut Courtois and Karim Benzema and the energetic impact of teenage midfielder Eduardo Camavinga.
1-0: Riyad Mahrez (73)
The Algerian's seventh goal of the campaign follows a driving run by Bernardo Silva. Collecting a pass from İlkay Gündoğan inside the centre-circle, he carries the ball to the edge of the Madrid box before slipping it out to Mahrez who, from the right side of the box, sweeps a first-time shot high inside the near post.
1-1: Rodrygo (90)
With a clever angled pass from outside the penalty box, substitute Camavinga picks out Benzema's run to the back post from where the striker manages to acrobatically hook the ball back across the five-metre box. Rodrygo, with fantastic anticipation, gets there ahead of Ederson to apply a one-touch finish.
2-1: Rodrygo (90+1)
Just 91 seconds later, Jack Grealish cannot stop Dani Carvajal swinging over a cross from the right and the leaping Rodrygo, undeterred by the ball's slight deflection off the head of Marco Asensio, succeeds in making terrific contact to flash a header past Ederson.
3-1: Karim Benzema (95)
Benzema's 15th goal of this European campaign underlines his composure and technical quality in the key moments. Having won the penalty, going to ground under a challenge from Rúben Dias, he takes a very different kick from his Panenka effort in the first leg, converting low to Ederson's left as the goalkeeper dives the other way. For the record: his two semi-final spot kicks followed directly from two penalty misses in a Liga fixture at Osasuna on 20 April.
Player of the Match: Thibaut Courtois
The Belgian made eight saves, taking his total for the knockout rounds to 28. None was more important than that with his foot to thwart Grealish at 0-1. In extra time he started the move that brought the penalty with a pass to the feet of Camavinga, who then carried the ball deep into City territory. "He kept Real in touching distance and alive with big saves," said the UEFA match observer of his "decisive performance", adding that Courtois' "distribution and decision-making on the ball became a threat in Real's attacking play".
Madrid used a 1-4-2-3-1 formation which featured Vinícius Júnior (No20) in a wide position on the left and Luka Modrić (No10) with plenty of freedom inside. Ferland Mendy (No23), the full-back behind Vinícius Jr, would come inside to join attacks; meanwhile, on the other side Carvajal (No2) would arrive in wide positions to support the attack. In the centre of the pitch, Madrid looked to match City with three midfielders matching the visitors' three. Casemiro (No14), absent from the first leg, focused his attentions on Kevin De Bruyne.
The 68th-minute introduction of Rodrygo (No21) in the place of Toni Kroos (No8) proved highly significant. Fede Valverde (No15) dropped back into midfield and Rodrygo took up a wide position on the right, using his energy to penetrate in behind City's back line. Further changes by Ancelotti before full time paid off too with Camavinga and Asensio bringing fresh legs and energy to the central area.
Set up in a 1-4-3-3, City sought to gain control through De Bruyne (No17), Bernardo (No20) and Rodri (No16) in the central areas. With Real playing with three men centrally at times this allowed some freedom for the City full-backs with João Cancelo (No27) finding time and space and time on the ball.
Up front, Pep Guardiola fielded Gabriel Jesus (No9) in his natural centre-forward role but after 30 minutes, he switched the Brazilian to the left-hand side and moved Phil Foden (No47) into a false-nine role. City would actually end the night playing in a 1-4-4-2 with centre-back Aymeric Laporte (No14) as centre-forward as they went for a direct approach amid the desperation of the closing minutes.
Before the rush of drama and emotion that brought three Madrid goals between the 90th and 95th minutes, the Spanish champions had impressed the UEFA match observer with their clear strategy of playing without the ball.
The video above offers several examples of this, highlighting their aggressive pressing in the opposition half. If City looked to play out down the side, one of the two Madrid full-backs would commit himself high up the pitch to support the press. The first clip shows Carvajal pushing all the way up on Cancelo, leaving the defenders behind to deal with potential 1v1s. In the second clip Mendy on the left does just the same, sprinting high upfield to help knock City out of their stride.
By contrast, in their own half Madrid took a different approach, staying compact with a low block and zonal defending. As for their approach on the ball, they were brave at times, trying to play through City's high press. One ploy was to look for short passes in combination on their right-hand side before then switching the play to their left-hand side to find Vinícius Jr with space to exploit. The Brazilian combined well with Benzema, the 34-year-old focal point of the attack whose mindset and maturity made him the embodiment of Madrid's extraordinary mental strength.
At the other end of the age scale, 19-year-old Camavinga showed his personality too, always showing for the ball and driving Madrid forward following his introduction. His ball to Benzema led to his compatriot setting up Rodrygo's first goal and, generally, he brought more dynamism to his team's play. Indeed, despite entering the action in the 78th minute, he ended the match with four tackles – second only to Valverde.
Another midfielder to catch the UEFA observer's eye was Bernardo, who gave a performance full of energy and technical excellence. He produced the most passes of the match in the final third (22, with an 82.1% success rate) and the most take-ons along with Vinícius Jr (seven, 71.4%). Overall, though, the match's powerful emotional currents meant City's play lacked its customary fluidity with echoes of their struggles across the city at the Metropolitano – and this time no reprieve after that extraordinary denouement.
Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid coach: "What happened tonight happened against Chelsea and also against Paris. If you have to say why, it is the history of this club that helps us to keep going when it seems that we are gone.
"The game was close to finished and we managed to find the last energy we had. We played a good game against a strong rival. When we were able to equalise, we had a psychological advantage in extra time."
Josep Guardiola, Man. City coach: "At that moment [when Mahrez scored], they could attack, attack, attack in the final 15 minutes, but that wasn't the case. We didn't suffer much, but football is unpredictable.
"They put a lot of players in the penalty box, with Éder Militão, Rodrygo, Vinícius Jr, Benzema. They put in crosses and scored two goals. We didn't play our best, but it is normal in a semi-final for the players to feel the pressure."