Man City, Real Madrid's instant classic sets up epic return leg

MADRID -- It was breathless in the Bernabeu, a night when Phil Foden and Fede Valverde delivered goals from the gods, when Real Madrid and Manchester City threw everything at each other in a bid to claim a crucial quarterfinal first-leg advantage and, ultimately, produced a 3-3 draw that leaves next week's second-leg firmly in the balance.

Yes, there were costly mistakes, foolish errors and lapses of concentration that will infuriate coaches Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola again when they rewatch the game in the coming days. But for those who remember different days in the Champions League, when coaches such as Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez enjoyed success by turning games into a battle of attrition and ultra-defensive discipline, this incredible game was the latest example that proved football is now all about attack, attack, attack and scoring goals.

And it's a safe bet that the fans in the stadiums and viewers across the globe prefer what the modern generation of coaches are giving us.

- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

Football is about the ups and downs of success and failure, but it is primarily in the entertainment business. One of these superpower clubs will be eliminated from the Champions League at the Etihad on April 17, but neither could be accused of trying to sneak into the semifinals with negative tactics designed to stifle their opponents, so win or lose, their reputation as teams will only be enhanced.

City, the reigning European champions, will host Real next week as favorites to progress by virtue of having home advantage in the return leg, but it could be just as explosive. In this game, both Jude Bellingham and Erling Haaland were largely anonymous for Real and City respectively, but if either of them turns it on next week, their side will have a greater chance of victory.

"This is the Bernabeu, my friend," Guardiola said when asked if his side had thrown away a victory in this game. "You are from England, you don't understand what the Bernabeu is like.

"There was lots of attacking on both sides, lots of mistakes, but if you pretend that coming to the Bernabeu against Real Madrid in the Champions League means a stable 90 minutes, you are wrong. It is impossible to control the game in the Bernabeu. But the Etihad will be full next week. Our fans can help us score one goal and we will do the rest. The team that wins will go through."

Real coach Ancelotti was less content with his team's performance, however.

"It's not a fantastic result for us because we wanted to win, of course," Ancelotti said. "We had chances after going 2-1 ahead. [City] shot from distance and scored twice. We just have to play with courage and personality in Manchester as we did tonight."

Despite City's lack of European pedigree prior to the arrival of owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan in 2008, they have since established themselves among the elite, and their rivalry with Real has grown into a real one in recent years. There have been epic games at the Bernabeu and the Etihad, dramatic wins for both sides and magic moments, and this fixture joined the growing list of memorable encounters.

City's lightning start certainly helped spark what followed. Aurélien Tchouaméni's foul on Jack Grealish inside the opening 60 seconds conceded a free kick and earned the France international a yellow card that rules him out of next week's second leg, but it also led to Bernardo Silva scoring the opening goal with the set-piece. The City midfielder spotted goalkeeper Andriy Lunin out of position and took a quick free kick that beat the Ukraine international and flew in off the post.

But Real, who seemed to be fired up by last season's 5-1 aggregate semifinal defeat against Guardiola's team, responded well and hauled themselves level when Eduardo Camavinga's shot deflected off Rúben Dias to make it 1-1 on 12 minutes. Within two minutes, Real were ahead following a sensational break down the left -- Kyle Walker's absence for City at right-back was a major issue in defense -- after Vinícius Júnior released Rodrygo, whose pace took him into the penalty area before his right-foot shot beat goalkeeper Stefan Ortega.

Having started so well, City were suddenly being pulled apart and hit on the break by Real. Guardiola's team rarely face such bold and adventurous opponents in the Premier League and they struggled to cope, but half-time worked in their favor. Guardiola reset the focus of his players, who were much more organized and controlled in the second half.

Real still hurt them on the counter, but they couldn't take advantage of their opportunities. Yet at the back, with Antonio Rüdiger completely nullifying Haaland who had just 20 touches during the game, Real looked set to hold out while they attempted to score again.

But Foden turned the tie back in City's favour when he scored a stunner with a left-foot shot from 20 yards after being teed up by John Stones. That goal buoyed City and knocked Real out of their stride, and the home team were reeling five minutes later when defender Josko Gvardiol mirrored Foden's goal by scoring with a similar shot, only with his right foot.

Real are never beaten at the Bernabeu, however, until the final whistle goes and Ancelotti replaced Toni Kroos with Luka Modric in an effort to find an equalizer. Six minutes after entering the action, Modric's break from midfield created Real's third goal, when his lay-off to Vinícius saw the Brazilian cross to Valverde on the opposite side of the penalty area. Valverde looked to be too far out to score, but he struck a right-foot volley which flew beyond Ortega to make it 3-3.

It was a majestic goal, one worthy of winning the Champions League itself rather than merely earning a first-leg draw in the quarterfinal. But its value may yet be much bigger than that. It gives Real a foothold when they travel to Manchester, and they will believe they can go toe-to-toe with City again.

One thing is for sure, it won't be an uneventful 0-0 draw. Expect more excitement at the Etihad.