That isn’t to say that Madrid won last night, because they most certainly didn’t. 4-3 results when you have the three is a loss in the scorebook. And it’s that kind of biting analysis that keeps you coming back. But Madrid “won” in that a one-goal deficit when the second leg is at home, where white-shirted gremlins have popped up to bite PSG and Chelsea, who both outplayed Madrid for most of their two-legged ties, is something they’ll feel comfortable with. And they “won” because they should be down three or four, or 12.
Do you have that one friend, no matter the topic you’re arguing over, who just comes up with the easiest, most accessible, hardly well-thought out argument but it’s always the trump card? For instance, in the most annoying debate of our time, LeBron vs. MJ, no matter how well you lay out LeBron’s case (because he’s better), that friend will be the one who just puts six fingers up. It’s lazy, it’s uncreative, but it’s also basically irrefutable. You can argue the semantics or nuance however well you want, but they’re not going to hear anything past “six rings.” You might as well state your well laid out case to an aardvark. Or take it back to one we all know. “Because I’m your mother.” Well, yeah, you are, and you very well may be wrong, but what the fuck am I gonna say?
That’s Madrid. Because they got six kinds of shit kicked out of them by City yesterday in the first leg in Manchester. City were up 1-0 within 90 seconds and 2-0 after 10 minutes. Carlo Ancelotti’s solution to not having his midfield anchor Casemiro through injury was to not bring in the energy (even if it a bit directionless) of Eduardo Camavinga at the base to throw up anything resembling a roadblock. It was to install Toni Kroos as the deepest midfielder. Even in his pomp, Kroos had the mobility of a shipwreck. So City’s midfield ran wild, over, around, and through Madrid’s. They could have scored any number. One gets the sense that Ancelotti’s tactics have never really moved beyond, “Start sort of around there, and go play.” Meanwhile City looked like Disco Demolition Night all over the field. Pep’s plan, and men, were ruthless, unrelenting, and dynamic for the game’s opening.
But Ancelotti, and Madrid, can almost always get away with whatever plans they have or don’t have, whatever they’re trying, because they can say, “We have Vinicius Jr. and Karim Benzema.”
This isn’t a great chance, it certainly isn’t produced out of patient or intricate build-up, and it’s not exploiting a weakness or executing a sustained plan. It’s a good chance that comes out of some harem-scarem action in midfield with the ball pinging around, and it’s one cross. There’s still a lot to do, and it’s on Benzema’s weaker side, and yet none of it matters. If there’s a sliver of an opening, Madrid have this card to play.
They continued to get their skulls kicked around, and if someone had handed Riyad Mahrez a map they would have been down 3 or 4-1 at halftime. It didn’t take long for City to find that third goal in the second half, and again it looked just about set for them to find the RPM that Madrid can’t and head off into the distance.
But Madrid have Vinicius Jr.
We should pause here to also include Guardiola’s reaction not to Vinicius’s goal, but his dummy to start his charge toward the City box, because he obviously knew what was coming:
Ok, yeah, Fernandinho isn’t a right back and is three days older than water. And yeah, Aymeric Laporte takes, shall we say, an abstract route back to defend that never comes within five yards of Vinicius. But all of that only matters because it’s Vinicius Jr., who will turn this kind of opportunity and space into a goal every time.
Again, City moved on Madrid like a lion to an antelope, should have scored more, but once again took a two-goal lead through a Bernardo Silva thunderbolt. 4-2 wouldn’t have ended the semifinal as a whole, but it would have been pretty damn comfortable. But this is Madrid, so they’re going to get a call. And they have Benzema.
It’s important to note that Benzema had missed two penalties just a few days before against Osasuna. So of course he was going to pull the Panenka out, which is essentially pulling your nuts out and laying them on the table. And because it’s Benzema, it’s globe-sized nuts (as some have suggested, it’s the kind of confidence and swagger one can only get when they’ve dated Rihanna, and fair play). This is a Champions League semifinal and your team is down two and has been second-best all over the field, asshole. This just isn’t right.
Madrid should have lost to PSG. They should have lost to Chelsea. They should have been ritually killed by City. And yet, there they stand, saying, “Yeah, but we have Benzema and Vinicius.” And there’s nothing you can say back. If you threw out this same roster in Real Sociedad jerseys and called them Real Sociedad, they probably would have gone out in the group stage. But there’s just something about “Real Madrid,” and shit just happens. It’ll probably continue to happen, even if there’s no logical reason that it should. It’s the most annoying argument in the world.