Real Madrid failed to turn late domination into a goal without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo as Manchester City held on for a 0-0 draw in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal on Tuesday.
City goalkeeper Joe Hart prevented Madrid from taking an away goal back to Spain for next week’s second leg, producing close-range saves from Casemiro and Pepe in the final 10 minutes of a cagey match at Etihad Stadium.
”Before the game, it was 50-50,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. ”I think it’s the same.”
City may not get a better chance to beat Madrid, which played half of the first leg without its two most potent attackers. Ronaldo had been nursing a right thigh injury and ”felt something” in a training session Monday, according to Zidane, while Karim Benzema started but didn’t come out for the second half after attempting to play through a knee problem.
City, though, couldn’t capitalize and managed just two shots on target – one of which was a free kick from Kevin De Bruyne that was tipped over the bar in second-half injury time.
”We were not very creative,” City manager Manuel Pellegrini said. ”But in terms of intent, we had most intent to win the game.”
Zidane said he was unsure if Ronaldo and Benzema, who have scored 74 goals between them this season, will be fit for the second leg. ”We have to take it day by day,” the Frenchman said.
A match between the grand master of European soccer – Madrid is a record 10-time European champion – and a recent arrival to the continent’s top table proved to be something of a let-down. Perhaps injuries played a part, with City, already without Yaya Toure (muscle problem), losing David Silva to a hamstring complaint late in the first half.
The absence of Ronaldo gave City a pre-game lift and ensured Madrid lacked a cutting edge going forward. Madrid’s central-midfield trio of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos rarely ventured forward to help out the front three, preferring instead to give the visitors a solid block in front of the defense.
City saw plenty of the ball in a tight first half but never threatened Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas, and then lost its way after the break.
The aerial route proved to be Madrid’s likeliest chance of scoring.
Hart had to be alert to save a header from the unmarked Sergio Ramos at a corner early in the second half, before Jese – a halftime replacement for Benzema – met a right-wing cross with a header that glanced the top of the crossbar and bounced over.
Hart then came into his own, keeping out Casemiro’s close-range header and then rushing out to the feet of Pepe to stop the center back from turning in a loose ball from inside the six-yard box.
”We had a couple of chances to score a goal. In that sense, a little bit disappointed,” Zidane said. ”But defensively, really happy with what we did.”