There is a fine line between genius and madness and Pep Guardiola gloriously showed again on what side he falls as he left out Sergio Aguero, did not start with Raheem Sterling but coached Manchester City to a famous Champions League victory over Real Madrid.
As Real collapsed, after taking the lead, there was even the sight of captain Sergio Ramos being sent off, for bringing down Gabriel Jesus. It was City’s captain Kevin De Bruyne who stole the show, though, with a thrilling performance as he turned things around.
Sterling came on to earn the winning penalty and how Guardiola, under so much pressure, back here in Madrid, and with City facing that proposed two-year European ban, will have enjoyed. How he will have felt vindicated. It is not over but this was a big, big win. It was also Zinedine Zidane’s first defeat in his 13th Champions League knock out match.
The City team-sheet caused a stir, a debate as to whether once more Guardiola had over-thought his line-up against what he had called “the kings of the competition” and a team who have prevailed in their last four Champions League ties against English opposition as part of that stellar, unrivalled pedigree in this competition.
In fact it took some time to work out City’s formation – was that also Guardiola’s plan? – with captain Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus all appearing to take it in turns as the furthest player forward. There were false nines and a number nine – Jesus – more than appearing on the left of the midfield.
There were whistles to greet Guardiola which reflected the mutual antipathy between Madrid and the Catalan who has bested them so often in the past with the local reaction to City’s European ban having been to portray it as a severe embarrassment to the former Barcelona coach. The City fans were not forgetting the intended ban, either. Thirty seconds in and an inevitable chant was raised against Uefa.