Man City could regret letting Real off, says Gary Lim
Pellegrini's men may rue failure to land knockout blow on depleted Real
SEMI-FINAL, 1ST LEG
MAN CITY 0
REAL MADRID 0
A depleted Real Madrid arrived at the Etihad Stadium gift-wrapped, ripe for the picking.
But Manchester City blew a golden chance with a timid response, seemingly incapable of coping with the enormity of the occasion.
Instead, they gladly settled for a goalless draw in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Avoiding defeat cannot be seen as a consolation. The failure to seize the initiative may return to haunt them in the second leg next week.
This was the perfect opportunity for Manuel Pellegrini's men to inflict a massive blow on a vulnerable Real side shorn of several of their best players.
Coach Zinedine Zidane clearly missed his talisman.
Bothered by a thigh strain, Cristiano Ronaldo saw his involvement limited to the signing of autographs, despite Zidane's pre-match claim that he was "100 per cent fit".
Without the Portuguese forward who has accounted for 31 goals in 34 La Liga matches and 16 strikes in the 10 Champions League outings, Real's attack never got going.
Halfway through the match, the Citizens were handed another massive boost, when striker Karim Benzema was taken off at half-time following a recurrence of a knee injury which forced him off against Rayo Vallecano at the weekend.
Real's much-vaunted BBC trio was left with just Gareth Bale carrying the flag up front, alongside squad players Jese, who came on for Benzema, and Lucas Vazquez.
The brilliant James Rodriguez, plagued by injuries and having fallen out of favour with his coach this season, never left the bench.
This was as close to Real running on empty as one can probably expect to see.
As a result, City's back four of Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy had an easy outing.
The few times they lost sight of their markers, the ever-reliable Joe Hart was there to save the day.
But City should have done much more.
Seemingly conscious of their inferior European pedigree - they are in the Champions League semi-finals for the first time while Real have won the competition 10 times - they paid too much respect to the Spanish side.
But erring on the side of caution may carry a heavy price.
City playmaker David Silva, the club's top Premiership assist-maker with 11 and their most accomplished passer of the ball, limped off in the 40th minute.
The Spaniard is the lubricant that keeps the City attack running smoothly.
"David Silva has a hamstring injury and will not be fit in one week," said Pellegrini after the game, confirming their fans' worst fears.
Then there is the likelihood that Ronaldo will be back to face them in the return leg.
Real are a different beast altogether when the 31-year-old stands over the ball at a set-piece or goes on one of his mazy runs half the length of the pitch.
Zidane has already said that he is hopeful Ronaldo and Benzema can take part in next week's clash, and Ronaldo admitted that his omission yesterday morning was merely a precautionary measure.
City find themselves needing to pull off the job amid a cacophony at the Santiago Bernabeu, where more than 76,000 spectators are expected to back their team.
Raheem Sterling must be kicking himself for his poor first touch after Sergio Aguero had threaded a lovely ball to him to set up a fine scoring opportunity on the stroke of full time.
Kevin de Bruyne will rue the free-kick he sent too close to the Real goalkeeper two minutes into injury time, the only occasion City managed to get a shot on target.
And perhaps even Pellegrini will have mixed feelings over his rare display of pragmatism.
City were so content with the draw that they spent much of the final minutes of the match stroking the ball around near the halfway line.
Sure, by no means is this a bad result. In fact, skipper Kompany couldn't hide his delight.
He said: "It is hard to keep a clean sheet against such an attacking team.
"We can be proud of what we have achieved in this first leg."
I don't think they are favourites. We have the same option as Real Madrid. This team play away very similar to how we play at the Etihad. We are not afraid to go to the Bernabeu and we will see which team play better in that game.
— Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini
We hope that they can both be in the second leg. We have to take it day by day with both of them.
— Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane on Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema
But Real are a different beast altogether at the Bernabeu and City may rue not getting at least a goal on their own turf.