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City left dazzled by Real's bright lights

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Cristiano Ronaldo slides on the Bernabeu turf after scoring his late winning goal - the 151st of his Madrid career - during last night's Champions League clash.

Cristiano Ronaldo slides on the Bernabeu turf after scoring his late winning goal - the 151st of his Madrid career - during last night's Champions League clash.

Cristiano Ronaldo slides on the Bernabeu turf after scoring his late winning goal - the 151st of his Madrid career - during last night's Champions League clash.

They flew out in all the Manchester City costumes: golden age 1968, depression era 1990s and miracle epoch 2012. The choice of replica jerseys for this test at Real Madrid spoke of a revolution in the head many City fans are still getting used to.

A first league championship in 44 years felt like the end of something big, on the day of Sergio Aguero's last-gasp goal against Queens Park Rangers. But with the end of that wait came a start: an age of vastly inflated expectation that points away from England and towards Europe.

This is nonsense, of course. One Premier League title in four and a half decades is no automatic ticket to supremacy in the "big cup" as Real's Jose Mourinho calls it. Yet there is no escaping the obligation to match domestic progress with overseas plunder, as Yaya Toure sensed when breaking free to set up Edin Dzeko to open the scoring on 68 minutes.

The logic is in the money City have spent on players, their £200m training ground scheme, the sense that all football tycoons have an ultimate goal: European domination.

"We're not really here," proclaims the old City banner. There it was again on a mild Spanish night, in the heaving museum of sky blue shirts from 1968-2012, under the roof of the royalist temple.

City were here, all right, in the thick of the elite, to confront opponents with nine European Cup wins and 99 victories overall in the competition. An echo of Manchester United's former dominance at home was the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo, chief matador and a veteran of 11 Manchester derbies, in which he scored four times and was sent off twice.

If this was the "sad" Ronaldo, no defender would want to face the happy one. City hoped to run into the disunited and dispirited Real Madrid from the press clippings but instead collided with a team determined to escape their introspection.

Mourinho's verbal attacks prompted a noticeable improvement, even with Luka Modric and Mesut Ozil on the bench. A resolute central midfield of Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira and Michael Essien established a platform for Ronaldo to forget all about his financial gripes and melancholia.

Twice, early in the first half, the star of Mourinho's show tested the agility of Joe Hart in the City goal. On the right Maicon was pulled around like a rookie and even the marvellous Vincent Kompany was having trouble with Ronaldo. Only the galloping major, Toure, offered consistent thrust in Real's direction.

Roberto Mancini was sacked by Inter Milan for not winning the Champions League and here he was carrying out Sheikh Mansour's mission against the manager who came in at the San Siro to win the Champions League for Inter Milan.

Mancini will say his summer recruitment drive was limited and hindered from above, but City look like a team in the throes of another integration phase.

They are a side who scratched a 44-year itch in May, but had to renew their sense of purpose over the summer and are now having to assimilate more new faces.

All this suggests they will be an even tougher proposition in November than they are now. They can expect no help in the meantime. Their wealth is a growing provocation to Old Europe, of which Real Madrid are the leaders.

None of the older elite wishes to be submerged by City's petro-wealth. Last season Mancini's men lost three of their five away games in Europe but scraped together 10 points from their Champions League group.

Unusually it was not enough to send them through. They could always cite domestic priorities. Stage one was winning the battle to be the No 1 team in Manchester, and England. Europe could wait.

Retaining the Premier League title would be an ample achievement. But Europe's lights are too bright to disregard and the force of expectation drives City on, to nights like these, which offer a taste of the difficulty and intensity of the later knockout rounds.

Ronaldo's winner, in the dying seconds, showed them the beauty and brutality of this competition. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent