Manchester City: Defeat to Real Madrid "At the Death" Only a Rout in Disguise

Phil Keidel@@PhilKeidelContributor IISeptember 18, 2012

Yaya in possession of the ball in space was not something City saw enough of against Real Madrid.
Yaya in possession of the ball in space was not something City saw enough of against Real Madrid.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

If you did not watch the match, if you only read a one paragraph information blast of the sort that United Press International used to create way back when, Real Madrid 3-2 Manchester City, would seem like it was a very close affair.

Don't you believe it.

In truth, Manchester City's loss in its Group D Champions League opener was a horror show for the Citizens—and not because they led twice, and not even because they lost a game they led with five minutes left in regulation time.

No, neither of those facts matter much in the final analysis.  What matters is that City was fortunate to have remained competitive into the 85th minute in the first place.  Their play to that point was so conservative that at times City's defense looked inadequate and desperate.

Time after time, Real Madrid set up what looked like an attack against a packed-in side of ten or even nine, firing shots at the City net or looping crosses over defenders looking for a tap-in header.  Except, of course, that City were playing with eleven.

In the scoreless first half, City narrowly dodged numerous bullets from (predictably) Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcelo.  That Roberto Mancini's squad went to the halftime break level was due more to Real Madrid's crooked and high shooting than anything else.

Manchester City came to life in fits and starts in the second half, but they certainly still looked less likely to break through in the 68th minute, which they did when Edin Dzeko finished off a Yaya Toure counter dash to put the visitors up 1-0.  

The lead, perhaps predictably, lasted all of eight minutes.

Marcelo, who had been blasting away from the edge of the box at Joe Hart with impunity, put Real Madrid on the board with a blast from the edge of the box that Javi Garcia did not get enough of.

City took its last lead in the 85th minute on Aleksandar Kolarov's harmless-looking free kick from well wide of the penalty area that somehow skipped past Iker Casillas.

But City could not stand the prosperity.

Karim Benzema equalized two minutes later.  And then, inexplicably, City permitted Ronaldo space, time and the ball in the 90th minute.  Ronaldo came into the match with 150 goals in 150 appearances for Real Madrid.

Make it 151 and 151.

Perhaps most galling for City is that neither of Real Madrid's final two scores was the result of inspired passing or shot-making.  Benzema's tying goal was a turn, a step right and a low shot just inside the post.  Ronaldo's match-winner was a shot he seemed to take after running out of any other ideas, a knuckler that Hart never played cleanly.

Even rolling through the above summary, it could seem like City was in this game all the way and just could not hold the lead at the end.

Again, you had to see it.  The match statistics, often misleading, do not do so here.  Real Madrid had 35 shots on goal and put 12 of them on net.  City had 10 shots and hit the target only three times (scoring twice.)

But even those statistics do not tell the whole story, because several of the shots that Real Madrid missed putting on goal sailed just over the crossbar or just wide of the post.

In truth, City was fortunate not to concede four, five or even six goals in this match; they were as lucky to score twice given the dearth of chances they created.

So while a 3-2 defeat away to Real Madrid does not sound too bad, it in fact was much worse than the score indicated.

And City has a lot to work on in advance of Arsenal's visit to the Etihad on Sunday.