Three things we learned from Man City vs. Real Madrid

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MANCHESTER — A 0-0 draw played out at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday as Manchester City and Real Madrid’s UEFA Champions League semifinal tie is balanced on a knife edge.

City started brightly and dominated the first half but Real grew into the game and hit the bar through Jese, while Joe Hart kept City in it with two superb stops late on.

It was a tight, tense encounter on a banner night for Man City. Everything is still to play for ahead of the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu next Wednesday.

Here’s what we learned from the Etihad.


Joe Hart didn’t have much to do for the opening 78 minutes but then he proved just how good he is. Hart first stopped Casemiro with his foot as his low header looked destined to go in.

Then three minutes later Hart went one better. His stop from Pepe was world class. After Gareth Bale‘s flicked header somehow found the Portuguese defender unmarked, five-yards out, Hart stood tall and did his best sprawling starfish impression as the ball cannoned off his chest and out. It was a stunning stop and City’s fans celebrated by singing “England’s No. 1!” There has been talk about Hart not being Pep Guardiola’s cup of tea and City’s incoming boss may look elsewhere next season.

Sure, Hart has dropped some clangers over the years but if you add up his mistakes and top-class saves — like the second one he produced at a pivotal moment of a UCL semifinal — I guarantee he’s in the plus column in his career. The 29-year-old seems like he’s been around forever and with performances like this on the biggest stage in City’s history as a club, he delivered,big time, to keep them level in the tie. If Real had scored an away goal it would have made this tie so much tougher.

A 1-0 deficit or worse would’ve been harsh on City. Thanks to Hart they go to Madrid next week with everything to play for and overall it was a memorable night at the Etihad as the home fans and owner Sheikh Mansour realized a dream. Having Real visit the Etihad and go home happy with a draw shows just how far they’ve advanced as a club.

Fernando, Fernandinho DOMINANT

In the first half City’s central midfield duo of Fernando and Fernandinho were especially on point. The Brazilian duo closed down Real’s midfield every time they received it with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric stifled.

Not only did Fernando and Fernandinho shut down the man with the ball but as soon as he was played it backwards or sideways they would charge out and stop Real’s defenders from having any time to regroup. It was relentless pressure, something which worked extremely well for them against Paris Saint-Germain in the last round and again on Tuesday.

Predictably they couldn’t keep that pressure up for the entire 90 minutes with Real making a switch at half time to bring Jese into the game for the static, and quite frankly 60 percent fit, Karim Benzema. Real’s full backs were allowed more space in the second half with Kroos and Modric getting on the ball more, but they only had luck out wide because the Brazilian duo of Fernando and Fernandinho locked midfield down. City looked solid in the central areas with Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi benefiting from a Brazilian shield in front of them.


We knew Cristiano Ronaldo was struggling with a thigh injury but the three-time World Player of the Year was expected to still start on Tuesday. He didn’t even make the bench. Zinedine Zidane said this about Ronaldo and Benzema on the eve of the game.

“They have recovered really well, they are 100 per cent, we will test them, but the idea is that they will play,” Zidane said. “They have got to be 100 per cent fit to play, but I think they will be. We will see how they go in training but they are players who look after themselves physically and my idea is that they are both going to be fit to play.”

Just how did 31-year-old Ronaldo go from being 100 percent to not even being on the bench in 24 hours? As for Benzema, he was hooked off at half time after hardly touching the ball and his only effort of note was a shot he almost stuck in the second tier of seating.

Real grew into the game and finished the stronger of the two teams with Jese’s header, Bale going close and forcing Hart into two fine saves. They’ll be happy enough knowing they don’t have a 2-0 deficit to overturn like they did in the quarterfinal against Wolfsburg and at the Santiago Bernabeu they will fancy beating any team in the world. We don’t know the full extent of Ronaldo’s injury but it seems certainly the all-time leading scorer in the UCL will be back for the second leg.

One of City’s fans summed up it best on the train heading into Manchester before Tuesday’s game. Ronaldo led an incredible Real comeback against City at the Bernabeu in 2012 as the home side were 2-1 down heading into the final minutes and then won 3-2.

“He scared the s*** out of us every time he got the ball,” said the City fan. He’ll probably do the same next week, if he’s fit, and that could be the difference in this tie.

BONUS: Zidane also manage to split his trousers for a second-straight Champions League game. Can anybody help the Real Madrid and France legend out!?

Man City vs Man United: How to watch live, stream link, team news


Manchester City vs Manchester United: Erling Haaland is set for his Manchester derby debut when the two-time defending champions host the rapidly improving Red Devils at Etihad Stadium on Sunday (watch live, 9 am ET on Peacock Premium). 


Haaland has taken the Premier League by storm with an absurd 11 goals scored in his first seven games after (ostensibly) choosing Man City over Man United before leaving Borussia Dortmund this summer.

Six weeks ago, Manchester United had not a single point from their first two games, including a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of tiny Brentford, but Erik ten Hag has since switched tactical course en route to four straight wins, including a 3-1 victory over PL leaders Arsenal last time out, to set up this hugely intriguing showdown on Sunday.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Man City vs Man United

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

How to watch Manchester City vs Manchester United live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 9 am ET, Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock Premium

Key storylines & star players

Despite a pair of disappointing draws (Newcastle and Aston Villa), it’s been an unbeaten start to the 2022-23 season for Man City, who still lead the PL in possession (66.4 percent per game) while also becoming an unstoppable offensive force from last season (14 goals in their first seven games) to this season (23). That’s not to say it’s been easy as Manchester City go through a tactical shift of their own to better appeal to the big Norwegian’s poaching abilities. Though they have been forced to grind out results a few times already this season, it’s highlighted a newfound spontaneity for a side that’s been as regimented as any in the world. Will that freedom be what ultimately lands Pep Guardiola his first Champions League trophy since 2011, and perhaps a third straight PL title (and a fifth in six years) to boot?

As for Manchester United, the Ten Hag era has been a wild roller-coaster ride already, short as it’s been. The back-to-back defeats were one thing, but the abject performances were the real cause for discontent. While picking up the four straight victories, the Dutchman has also settled on a midfield setup with Scott McTominay and Christian Eriksen operating in (effectively) a double pivot with Bruno Fernandes the most advanced of the three. It has brought defensive stability, of course, but more importantly the change has revealed a deadly counter-attacking side. Each of Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Fernandes have scored twice during the winning run, with new boy Antony also getting in on the fun on his debut. With space in behind (and the proper service from deep), Ten Hag might just have his first winning formula (albeit quite unlike him).

Manchester City team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Kalvin Phillips (shoulder), John Stones (hamstring), Benjamin Mendy (suspension – MORE) | QUESTIONABLE: Aymeric Laporte (knee)

Manchester United team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Harry Maguire (hamstring), Marcus Rashford (thigh), Brandon Williams (undisclosed), Mason Greenwood (suspension – MORE) | QUESTIONABLE, Donny van de Beek (knock), Martin Dubravka (knock)

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WATCH: Lionel Messi spins gorgeous free kick goal past Nice’s Schmeichel


Lionel Messi got the better of Kasper Schmeichel with an outstanding free kick as Paris Saint-Germain outlasted Nice 2-1 on Saturday at the Parc des Princes.

The world’s greatest scorer was fouled to set up a free kick just inside the arc. Nice, of course, got into a wall and former Leicester City keeper Kasper Schmeichel arranged it to his liking.

As he does so many times, however, Messi spun a free kick just over the wall. The ball, which came so close to taking a slight turn off a leaping wall member (actually, did it?), tumbled down and right into the side netting to give PSG a 1-0 lead before the match was a half-hour old.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Ricardo Pepi scores relentless Groningen goal ]

Gaetan Laborde tied the match before halftime, and Nice’s revamped roster looked set to hold tight for a point (The club’s signed familiar Premier League names Schmeichel, Ross Barkley, Aaron Ramsey, and Mario Lemina).

Even that wouldn’t be enough, though, as Kylian Mbappe came off the bench to replace young Hugo Ekitike to finish a Nordi Mukiele assist for a 2-1 win.

PSG has eight wins and a draw this season, good for a two-point lead on second-place Marseille. Messi has five goals and a joint-league-best seven assists, tied with Neymar. Mbappe and Neymar are tied for the league goals lead with eight.

Lionel Messi free kick goal video

USMNT’s Ricardo Pepi defies xG with relentless goal (video)


USMNT forward Ricardo Pepi’s goal while trying to will Groningen back into an eventual 4-1 loss to AZ Alkmaar on Saturday will not be one of the expected variety.

The 19-year-old striker, on loan from Augsburg, ran onto an audacious long pass from 20-year-old defender Neraysho Kasanwirjo but had plenty of work to do with AZ leading 2-0.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez scores audacious overhead goal ]

Pepi sees one defender fall in a race to the ball, then bodies up AZ’s Sam Beukema a little outside the six-yard box.

Hand-to-hand combat sees both players hit the turf, and Pepi probably could won a penalty.

But the World Cup hopeful spins while on the pitch and snaps a shot past charging AZ goalkeeper Hobie Verhulst to make it 2-1.

Video after the jump.

Ricardo Pepi

Ricardo Pepi goal video: Fantastic start to Groningen loan

Pepi now has a goal or an assist in his first three Eredivisie outings, not unlike his fantastic start to life in a USMNT shirt.

His goal contributions have taken a dive since his first two USMNT matches — World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Jamaica — and he only has one assist from the following 10 outings in a U.S. shirt.

Still, Pepi is clearly one of Gregg Berhalter’s favorite options for the upcoming World Cup, and his performances will be measured against Union Berlin’s Jordan Pefok, FC Dallas’ Jesus Ferreira, and others.

In a tournament where every moment matters, his work for this scrappy finish will be well-noted by the USMNT staff.

Josef Martinez scores vicious overhead kick in Atlanta United loss (video)


If this is the last goal of Josef Martinez’s (likely) final season with Atlanta United, it will be very appropriate.

So for Martinez, even in a losing effort, to go airborne for an overhead kick that is a simply sensational feat of athleticism and power, well, it just feels right.

The 29-year-old Venezuelan forward joined the Five Stripes in 2017 in what seemed a massive capture for the club at the time and now seems downright gargantuan, but he’s fallen out with current manager Gonzalo Pineda and was even suspended for a match last month.

[ MORE: West Ham beats Wolves | Klopp reacts to latest setback ]

Martinez has nine goals and four assists in an injury-abbreviated 25-game season, giving him 111 goals in 156 appearances for ATL UTD. The former Torino and Young Boys striker is still being capped for Venezuela and would leave with an MLS Cup, Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and Campeones Cup as well as a boatload of individual honors.

Atlanta lost 2-1 to New England on Saturday and returns home for their season finale next weekend versus New York City FC. The Five Stripes won’t make the playoffs unless at least two teams decide not to field teams, so if the NYCFC game doesn’t go well, let’s pretend this one was his final appearance for the club.