Pep Guardiola warned his Manchester City side that Real Madrid are well capable of overturning their first-leg deficit as he admitted City’s Champions League progression is far from certain following their exits to Liverpool and Tottenham in the past two seasons and the general unpredictability of the competition.
City achieved one of their best ever results in Europe on Wednesday night as they came from a goal down at the Bernabeu to beat 13-time Champions League winners Real on their own patch in the first 90 minutes of their two-legged last-16 tie.
Despite centre-back Aymeric Laporte being forced off with injury in the first half and Isco putting the hosts ahead after Rodri and Nicolas Otamendi combined to lose possession, Pep Guardiola’s charges produced the ideal response in the Spanish capital.
But a Gabriel Jesus header brought the Citizens level on 78 minutes and just five minutes later, the Premier League champions led after Kevin De Bruyne outwitted Thibaut Courtois from the penalty spot after substitute Raheem Sterling was felled inside the box.
City were dealt a major boost for the second leg at the Etihad on March 17 when Real captain Sergio Ramos brought down Jesus with the striker running clear through on goal and was shown red.
Guardiola is looking to win the Champions League for the first time since 2011, failing to do in his three seasons at Bayern Munich, while City have never won the competition.
And while they boast a healthy away goal advantage over Los Blancos, who have hoisted this trophy aloft four times in the past six years, the Catalan coach is cautious of getting carried away.
That is because of their ties against Liverpool and Tottenham in recent years, being dumped out 5-1 by the Reds in 2017-18 before suffering a devastating exit at the hands of Spurs last season, a 4-4 draw seeing the north London club win on away goals.
Guardiola said to BT Sport post-match: “I would say when we were better, we concede a goal, when they were better, we score a goal.
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“That’s this competition. That’s football. I remember the quarter-final three seasons ago when we play at Anfield when we played incredibly well but three shots on target, three goals [conceded].
“We played with incredibly personality against Tottenham as well, so we have to improve, we cannot give them the goal we concede.
“But it’s part of the game. Maybe in the future we will grow.
“The important thing is the way we played. We tried to come here to try to win the game and we did it.
“But it’s just the first part, it’s not three points.
“If one team can overcome this situation with their experience and everything, it’s this club [Real Madrid].
“But of course, a good result, we could not score goals the previous two so we did it. It’s good.”
Guardiola could not hide his disappointment from losing Laporte to injury, with the Frenchman’s lengthy absence due to a knee problem having been felt this term.
City look set to relinquish their Premier League crown to Liverpool with their porous back-line having been crucial to their downfall, having conceded more goals than in the entirety of the previous campaign despite having played 11 matches less.
Asked about Laporte’s knock being a worry, Guardiola replied: “Yeah of course. After five months injured, you come back, in this scenario it’s so demanding.
“We suffered a lot in his absence but Fernandinho came in and did incredibly well, John [Stones] will be back and Nico [Otamendi], we will try to do it.
“I’m so proud of course but this is just the first step, we have another game. It’s not over. We can enjoy it, we spoke about that, enjoy the moment.
“On Sunday we have a final [in the Carabao Cup vs Aston Villa]. We’ll keep going in the Premier League and prepare for the second game against Real Madrid.”
Guardiola, a two-time Champions League-winning manager, adopted an unfamiliar system at the Bernabeu which saw De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva line up as false No 9s, with Jesus deployed out wide.
Goalscorer De Bruyne said post-match: “It’s a very good start for the first game. The first 15 minutes we struggled for a bit but you have to go through the storm.
“It was a pretty even first half and we started the second half pretty well. The [Real] goal came at a bit of a bad moment for us because I think we were dominating at the time.
“I thought our response was brilliant. It was a beautiful goal from Gabi and the second goal, the penalty was very important for us.
“I think, the four years we’re here with Pep, there are some surprises [within the squad], and even the players, they don’t know before the game starts what they need to do.
“Some [changes] were good. I think we had some lesser moments. In a quality game like this, you’re going to struggle sometimes, but I thought we really fought really well together.”
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