Hart brilliance ensures City go to Madrid on level terms

City will travel to the Bernabeu next week on level terms after drawing 0-0 with Real Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final. The Blues looked comfortable for the first hour before Joe Hart was forced to make at least two stunning saves as City withstood a period of intense pressure from the La Liga giants. A goalless draw, however, means there is everything to play for in the return game in Spain where Madrid have so far won all five home games in this competition without conceding a single goal. Before a ball was even kicked the atmosphere inside the Etihad was something special with thousands of foil flags making for a breath-taking sight. As the players walked out, streamers reigned down from the roof – this is what the Champions League is really all about. City had received a further boost with the news that Europe’s most prolific striker Cristiano Ronaldo had failed to recover from a thigh injury. The Blues’ only absentee through injury was Yaya Toure, as revealed by Manuel Pellegrini during Monday’s press conference. Other than that, the manager made five changes from the side that beat Stole comfortably at the weekend. The opening exchanges were understandably cagey with both sides making little headway and neither keeper called into action. But as the half wore on, so the Blues’ confidence grew with Jesus Navas and Kevin De Bruyne causing the visitors problems, drawing one or two cynical challenges in the process. David Silva limped off with what looked like a muscle injury five minutes before the break giving Kelechi Iheanacho the chance to show what he could do against one of the best club sides in Europe. As it was, the halfway stage of the first tie reached the interval with surprisingly little incident. The first real chance of the night came on 54 minutes when Sergio Ramos found space from a Tony Kroos corner but the Madrid defender’s attempt went tamely into the gloves of Joe Hart. It was a warning, if nothing more. The City fans grew steadily more frustrated with the over-fussy officiating that continually prevented any real flow to the game which was hardly an end-to-end feast of attacking football – but with so much at stake, it was easy to understand why. The game opened up a little more in the final 20 minutes and Madrid again went close as Jese’s header struck the top of the bar – with a goalless draw certainly not the worst result in the first leg, the Blues needed to consolidate and ensure the visitors didn’t pinch an away goal. Gareth Bale had begun to look dangerous as City legs started to tire and Hart was forced into brilliant instinctive stop with his feet as Casemiro’s header seemed certain to end up in the back of the net. Madrid were finishing in the ascendency and the Blues were hanging on. Then, with 82 minutes played, another dangerous corner resulted in another magnificent stop from Hart who seems to take on superhuman form for this competition, saving at point blank range from Pepe. City had been well shackled in attack all night but as the clock ticked past 90 minutes, Sergio Aguero played a ball through to Raheem Sterling who just failed to take it in his stride otherwise he would have been clean through on goal. Then De Bruyne was felled just outside the box and his vicious free-kick was palmed over by Keylor Navas – his first real save of the night. It was almost the last kick of a game that is only at the halfway stage and the it's worth remembering that the Blues have saved some of their best Champions League performances for the ties away from home this campaign. One more big effort and the greatest prize in club football will be just 90 minutes away...

MATCH DETAILS:

Manchester City (0): Joe Hart; Bacary Sagna, Vincent Kompany, Nicolás Otamendi, Gael Clichy; Fernando, Fernandinho, Jesús Navas, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne; y Sergio Agüero.

Real Madrid (0): Keylor Navas; Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; Casemiro, Kroos, Modric; Lucas Vázquez, Bale y Benzema. Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (TUR). Amonestados: Pepe, Silva, Carvajal

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