UEFA Champions League
Champions League: Man City holds Real in Madrid, Arsenal settles for tie with Bayern
UEFA Champions League

Champions League: Man City holds Real in Madrid, Arsenal settles for tie with Bayern

Published Apr. 9, 2024 7:35 p.m. ET

If the rest of the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals are anything like the two matches that opened the round on Tuesday, fans in Europe and across planet fútbol are in for a treat.

Real Madrid survived an early goal from defending champ Manchester City, took the lead, fell behind again and settled for a 3-3 tie in the first leg of the two-game, total-goals-wins series in Spain's stately capital.

In London, Arsenal and Germany's Bayern Munich played to a similarly enthralling back-and-forth 2-2 draw. The Gunners squandered a first half lead, then trailed Germany's Bayern Munich — the would-be winner from star English striker Harry Kane, who Bayern recruited last summer from chief Gunners' rival Tottenham Hotspur — before battling back to equalize through Leandro Trossard late.

The decisive second matches will take place on April 13 in Manchester and Munich, respectively.  Here are three quick thoughts on Tuesday's wild pair of contests.


Man City in the driver's seat

It was the best start imaginable for the trophy holders who, under the new roof closed at a pulsating Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid, took a shocking 1-0 lead less than two minutes in through Bernardo Silva. The advantage turned out to be as short-lived as it was maddening for the visitors, with City's Rúben Dias inadvertently turning the ball into his own net.

City — which saw star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne pulled from Pep Guardiola's starting lineup after the Belgian became ill before kickoff — was behind a few moments later, courtesy of Real Madrid's Rodrygo. But the visitors roared back midway through the second half, scoring twice in a five-minute span to retake the lead. Phil Foden's equalizer was sublime, but defender Joško Gvardiol's go-head strike might have upstaged it:

But there's a reason why Real Madrid have twice as many European titles than any other team. Sure enough, the home side pulled even again, this time on a blistering low drive by Federico Valverde:

The Gunners must be kicking themselves

Arsenal got a dream start of its own when Bukayo Saka put the hosts ahead on 12 minutes. But the joy in the stands at the Emirates also proved temporary, with Serge Gnabry canceling out the Gunners' lead shortly thereafter and stopping the hosts' momentum cold.

Bayern then took the lead against the run of play, with Kane converting from the penalty spot. The strike was Kane's sixth at Arsenal's home stadium, more than any other visiting player.

It still wasn't enough for Bayern to take a lead back to Allianz Arena for next week's all-important rematch, with Trossard ensuring that a semifinal berth is still very much in play for both teams. Still, Arsenal wanted and maybe even deserved all three points — not least after Saka went down in the penalty box after apparent contact with Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer late. But the pleas for a spot kick of their own ultimately fell on deaf ears.

How much will experience matter next week?

Much of the talk going into these two first legs — and especially Arsenal-Bayern — was how much previous Champions League success would impact how the games played out. As impressive as the Gunners have been under manager Mikel Arteta the last two years, this is their first season in the competition under the Spaniard. Bayern, meantime, hoisted club soccer's most coveted trophy less than four years ago. Arsenal's relative naivety was apparent at times on Tuesday, while Bayern managed not to lose a match it probably should've. Despite its poor current form, the Germans have at least an even chance of progressing to the final four.

For all of Real Madrid's historic success in this tournament, Carlo Ancelotti's side probably has the tougher road ahead. Sure, Valverde's face-saving leveler makes next week's trip to England slightly less daunting. But the truth is that City looked like the sharper and more composed squad on Tuesday. Guardiola's men, in short,  looked like champions. After eliminating mighty Real 5-1 on aggregate in last year's semis, it's clear that City has no fear of Los Blancos' aura anymore. They're the obvious favorite now — not just to advance, but to become the first team to repeat since Real won three in a row between 2016-18.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United Statesmen's and women's national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.


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