IT doesn’t matter how many goals Erling Haaland scores this season, or how many records he erases from the history books. 

Kevin De Bruyne remains Manchester City’s ultimate big-game player, the man most likely to seal them a Treble. 

Vinicius Jr put Real Madrid in front with a thunderbolt from outside the area


Vinicius Jr put Real Madrid in front with a thunderbolt from outside the areaCredit: Reuters
Kevin De Bruyne drew City level with a fine strike of his own


Kevin De Bruyne drew City level with a fine strike of his ownCredit: Getty
De Bruyne fizzed an effort into the bottom corner


De Bruyne fizzed an effort into the bottom cornerCredit: Getty

In both of City’s Premier League summit meetings with Arsenal, it was their princely Belgian midfielder who conjured moments of brilliance to open the scoring. 

And just when it appeared that Real Madrid might gain a stranglehold on this Champions League semi-final, it was De Bruyne who fizzed home an equaliser to tee up next Wednesday’s second leg perfectly.  

This was a magnificent game of football – it swung one way then another, it throbbed with class, it simmered with spite and it left all of Europe gagging for more. 

When City were dominant, Vinicius Jr rocketed the opening goal for Real.

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And when Carlo Ancelotti’s side were ascendant, De Bruyne responded with a strike almost as stunning. 

There will be no mightier test of City’s Treble credentials than these two matches against the 14-time champions of Europe. 

This was half of what will almost certainly go down as another classic, breathless contest between Europe’s great established power and its most thrilling group of filthy-rich upstarts. 

City might think they have the upper hand but Real have demolished Liverpool at Anfield and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and they know no fear in these rarefied fixtures. 

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Real Madrid and City played out a thrilling game at the Bernabeu


Real Madrid and City played out a thrilling game at the BernabeuCredit: AFP

Last season, Real seemed to win this corresponding fixture through willpower and their own overwhelming sense of inevitability. 

Real always tend to grow at the sharp end of this competition, while City shrink.  

There was, though, one significant addition to the cast compared to last year’s dizzying classic. 

And Haaland seemed to have spooked the locals, who do not usually spend much time bigging up the opposition. 

Marca, Real’s media mouthpiece, carried the front-page headline ‘A Monster Comes To Visit’ – as if the mighty Norseman had been created by Frankenstein rather than former Leeds midfielder Alfie. 

And for half an hour, Real’s players did look intimidated.

City strutted around as if they owned the place, controlling the ball like possessive lovers. 

Guardiola has avoided his trademark selection brainstorms this season – this was the logical team, Kyle Walker included at right-back to combat Vinicius. 

The only thing he’d ‘overthought’ was his tailoring.

It was a very rare sighting of the City boss in a suit.

He looked like a nervous father of the bride or a man of previously impeccable character up before the beak.  

John Stones, the strolling Barnsley Baresi, epitomised them, everywhere from centre-half to No10, with a footballing intelligence his countrymen were never supposed to possess until Pep Guardiola arrived. 

Thibaut Courtois saved from De Bruyne, from Rodri and twice, comfortably, from Haaland. 

De Bruyne stepped up once again for City when it mattered most


De Bruyne stepped up once again for City when it mattered mostCredit: AP

Real seemed to forget who they were – Luka Modric hoofing long balls, Toni Kroos’s passing off-beam, Karim Benzema sending a simple ball into touch.  

City had six efforts on goal before Madrid managed one.

But when Madrid managed one, they scored. 

This is what they do.

They were two-down before they steamrollered Liverpool into the Anfield turf in February and two-down here going into injury-time against City last year. 

The goal itself was stunning – concussive and brutal.

Deep in his own half Modric flicked a pass to left-back Eduardo Camavinga, all legs and lungs.

Forty yards later, he squared to Vinicius, who ghosted inside Ilkay Gundogan and detonated a shot from 22 yards out.

Ederson might have seen it coming before it exploded into the net but we can’t be sure.  

We had heard little from the faithful but shrill whistling until then.

Suddenly every eardrum detected thunder. 

Real then got nasty.

Dani Carvajal sent Jack Grealish sprawling to the floor


Dani Carvajal sent Jack Grealish sprawling to the floorCredit: Getty
Carvajal then hit the deck himself


Carvajal then hit the deck himselfCredit: AFP

Carvajal shoved Jack Grealish into the advertising hoardings, then attempted some demonic play-acting. 

Kroos kiboshed, as Toni Rudiger had already done, Gundogan and was booked. 

Earlier in the second half, Real got the sword out and sliced through City, Carvajal’s back-heel feeding Benzema, whose rising shot was deflected wide.   

Haaland had a proper sighter but Alaba got down and dirty in the last ditch and was roared as if he had scored. 

Real had just been getting into boss mode – Modric spraying it around like a lawn sprinkler, Vinicius swivelling past Walker, Benzema harrying and bullying defenders – when City scored. 

Rodri won possession, Grealish fed Gundogan, who laid it off to De Bruyne and the Belgian walloped it home, almost as viciously as Vinicius had done. 

Up in the heavens, the Blue Moon brigade, with a dream in their hearts, went full-on lunar, threatening to tumble off the steep terracing.

The moral of this match seemed to be, ‘whatever you do, don’t get on top’. 

City saw it out for a draw which will have meant more than any of their ten straight Premier League wins. 

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But this tie has only just begun. Cancel any other plans you might have for next Wednesday.

This is football at its peak. 

The two sides will do it all again next week


The two sides will do it all again next weekCredit: Getty

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