Rodri has described Manchester City’s Champions League victory at Real Madrid as a psychological turning point for his club’s season.
City were well-balanced and comfortable in the last 16 first leg only to be stunned when Real took the lead through Isco against the run of play on the hour. But rather than feel sorry for themselves and lose their way, as they have done at times during an erratic season, they dug in to drive a dramatic turnaround.
Gabriel Jesus headed the equaliser from a Kevin De Bruyne cross in the 78th minute before De Bruyne secured a famous 2-1 win from the penalty spot. Sergio Ramos, the Real captain, would be sent off in the 86th minute for a last-man foul on Jesus as his team unravelled.
“We never let the game slip away from us,” Rodri said. “We managed to do something that we have lacked all season, which is hold on in the bad moments, have personality, demonstrate that, and not lose our shape or control. They went 1-0 up and we didn’t let the game pass us by.
“They dropped off physically in the last 10, 15 minutes, we detected that and made the most of it. If the game had lasted a little longer, we could have done more damage. But given the way the game went, it is a very good result for us. We showed strength when things went badly and that’s what we have lacked this season.”
City’s list of Champions League scalps from the knockout rounds is short and pretty unremarkable. In nine seasons they have taken only four, with Paris St-Germain the standout name. The others have been Dynamo Kyiv, Basel and Schalke.
But now they are in the driving seat to put out Real, the 13-times champions and, if they can complete the job at the Etihad Stadium in three weeks, they would ignite the belief that, after so many disappointments, this could be their season in the competition.
The club’s looming two-year ban from European football for financial irregularities has provided an uncomfortable sideshow but City would not be the first team to use perceived injustice to fire a run to glory.
“We’re not here just to get through the round but to try to win the Champions League,” Rodri said. “We still need to improve. This was a good result but it’s not done at all. We’re not through. Guardiola has said to have respect for our opponents.”
Real were strangely flat, uninspired in the final third, save for a brief spell after Isco’s goal, and Rodri was asked whether the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus in the summer of 2018 had adversely affected the Spanish club.
“Of course, you can tell,” the midfielder said. “Those kind of players, of which there are basically two in the world, who tip the balance – you notice when they’re not there. They’re a bit flatter. But that doesn’t mean they’re worse. They have good midfielders and they impose on you more, although in ‘arrival’ they do less. They’re still a very hard team.”
There remains a good deal of unhappiness in Madrid about Jesus’s goal, with the contention being that he pushed Ramos before scoring. The TV replays were far from conclusive and VAR did not feel the need to intervene.
“Everyone knows it is a foul,” Vinícius Júnior, the Real forward, said. “The referees always whistle against us. It’s the same every game. Always, always, they come here and whistle against us. It’s not normal. We didn’t collapse physically. Jesus commits a foul on the first goal. We’re the best team, with the most league titles, the most Champions Leagues, so it is always going to be like that.”
Jesus said: “It’s not a foul. Football is a contact sport. I barely put my hands on him. The referee didn’t rule it out because I didn’t push him.”