Joe Hart the hero for Manchester City in scoreless draw vs. Real Madrid
With an expectant crowd roaring them on, Manchester City chose to play the percentages and will travel to Madrid for the second leg hopeful that they can still clinch the most unlikely Champions League final appearance in years.
A goalless first leg is clearly preferable to a scoring draw, leaving Manuel Pellegrini's side with the tantalizing prospect of needing only a score draw in the second leg to proceed.
Scoring, however, looked low down the home side's priorities in the first leg, as the game ground on in a cat-and-mouse fashion. Real's midfield pass-masters Luka Modric and Toni Kroos were excellent in possession, while City's ball-winners Fernando and Fernandinho did their jobs to maximum effect. The result was a stalemate, as each side's outstanding players cancelled out the other's most dangerous individuals.
In the end, City had England's Joe Hart to thank for the clean sheet. After an inactive first half, the goalkeeper first produced an excellent block from Casemiro's free header, then a miraculous save as Real came closer to breaking the deadlock.
An intriguing battle leaves plenty of permutations open for the second leg.
(Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Joe Hart, 9 -- The mark of a true champion to be inactive for 55 minutes, then gradually come into the game. First a simple save from Sergio Ramos's free header, then a great reaction to block Casemiro's header with his left foot, followed finally by a miraculous chest block from Pepe's close-in drive. The hero of the hour.
DF Bacary Sagna, 6 -- Energetic start began to be cancelled out by the advances of Marcelo down his flank. Hands full all night with a series of concerted raids aimed at getting in behind him. Stuck with it but had little chance to advance.
DF Vincent Kompany, 7 -- Great return from the captain, immediately giving the defence a sure-footed look. No nonsense approach led to Lucas Vasquez getting winded by one hefty clearance, but failed to jump with Ramos for his free header.
DF Nicolas Otamendi, 7 -- Chosen ahead of Eliaquim Mangala for his La Liga experience and proved an energetic foil to Kompany. Let Karim Benzema pass him too easily early on but was decisive in the tackle and resolute throughout in his defending. One or two risky balls out of defence led to palpitations in the crowd, but otherwise safe.
DF Gael Clichy, 8 -- The only defender free to attack, he spent the entire game dashing up and down the left side. From his first clash with Gareth Bale, a resounding success, to the final seconds spent out-flanking right-back Dani Carvajal, he epitomized the forward momentum that was lacking elsewhere in the team.
MF Fernando, 8 -- Decent effort against Modric and Kroos. Tidy start included one lovely slide rule pass to Jesus Navas on the overlap. Had his work cut out halting the Real advance through the middle but stuck to his duties admirably.
MF Fernandinho, 7 -- A difficult game for the Brazilian, with Real's pace and accuracy often taking him out of the midfield equation. Battled hard for space with compatriot Fernando and was still busy disrupting Spanish momentum right through to the end in a dogged display.
MF David Silva, 6 -- Injured early on by making a sliding tackle on Bale and was removed from the action shortly afterwards. Had been a peripheral figure up to then. Replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho on 40 minutes.
MF Jesus Navas, 6 -- Couple of early flicks suggested he might be the key player to open up the Real left flank, but he failed to impose anything on Marcelo and gradually found himself dragged into an untidy and overcrowded midfield scene, where he played his defensive part. Replaced by Raheem Sterling after 76 minutes.
MF Kevin De Bruyne, 6 -- The big stage was waiting for him to shine, but he became engulfed in the midfield morass. Drew a yellow from Pepe for rash challenge and came into things towards the end, but too far from Sergio Aguero to make a telling combination with the little striker.
FW Sergio Aguero, 6 -- Hardly a touch for the first 15 minutes, he managed a rasping left-footed shot over the bar just after the restart. Too much distance between him and De Bruyne for telling combinations and substitute Iheanacho also played too deep to help him against the twin blocks of Ramos and Pepe. Not helped by aimless long balls lofted towards his area of the pitch.
MF Kelechi Iheanacho, 6 -- Surprise entry for Silva in the first half. First few touches suggested a fearless young man going about his business, but he was soon forced to drop deep and became embroiled in Real's smothering game in midfield.
MF Raheem Sterling, NR -- On for Navas after 76 minutes, he did not manage to get into a game that was being dominated by Real's midfield by that stage. Put through in the last minute but Aguero's ball was weighted slightly too heavily.
Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.