There aren’t many situations in football where a loss feels like a win, but for Real Madrid’s players tonight will be one of them.
They faced Europe’s best in the form of Manchester City, and while they lost 4-3 in a thrilling game at the City of Manchester Stadium, there won’t be many frowns on the flight back to Spain.
Madrid fought back three times to keep the tie close, and they will back themselves to make up that one goal deficit at the Bernabeu in the return game in a week’s time.
There were moments of brilliant skill from players on both sides, and for the third round of this competition in a row an outmatched Real Madrid team refused to allow themselves to be beaten by superior opposition. Pep Guardiola coached his team to a win – but he will be the manager who goes home more frustrated tonight.
Carlos Casemiro missed tonight’s game, forcing a reshuffle from Carlo Ancelotti, but the Brazilian is sure to be back next week, adding some necessary authority and stability to a Madrid midfield which was unforgivably open tonight.
His presence will free up Fede Valverde to move to the right hand side again if Ancelotti wants to play things safe, or it could be a straight swap for the Uruguayan if the Madrid manager decides to keep Rodrygo in the side for his threat on the break.
Casemiro’s presence might not be enough to turn the tide – the final score did not reflect City’s overall dominance – but it might well shift the balance further back towards a Real side who reminded the world tonight that they don’t need to control a game to win it.
A game that looked like it could be over after ten minutes tonight now heads to Madrid finely balanced, and with more cards yet to be played.