THE stage seemed to be all set for Raheem Sterling to show the Bernabeu what he is all about.
The England ace had battled back from a hamstring problem in double quick time.
He even made himself available for games against West Ham and Leicester in the last few days to prove his fitness.
Then there were those interviews with the Spanish media — and a photo of him with a Real Madrid shirt slung over his shoulder.
Manager Pep Guardiola spoke before the game about how the former Liverpool man was ready to be unleashed against the club he would love to play for one day.
So imagine the 25-year-old’s face when the team was announced at the team hotel before kick-off and he was only on the bench.
At least he was in good company alongside Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho and David Silva.
And while he must have been disappointed, it would not have come as a complete surprise. After all, he’s been there throughout Guardiola’s three-and-a-half year reign.
So he knows the former Barcelona boss has a habit of making surprise calls on big Champions League nights.
On this occasion he got it spot on, showing why the likes of Real boss Zinedine Zidane believe he is still the best coach in the world.
It hasn’t always worked with such big calls though.
Eleven months ago he left City fans scratching their heads by leaving Kevin De Bruyne on the bench until the 89th minute of the quarter-final at Tottenham.
The single goal defeat proved crucial in one of the best ties in recent memory.
A year before that he put Aymeric Laporte – now his best centre-back – at left-back for the trip to Liverpool.
They found themselves 3-0 down in the first half an hour and there was no way back.
His team selection and tactics also came under fire when City exited Europe at this stage three years ago.
He played just one holding midfielder, Fernandinho, against a talented Monaco side who smelt blood from the start.
City’s two-goal lead from the first leg was wiped out by Kylian Mbappe and friends on one of the most difficult nights of managerial career.
One of Guardiola’s favourites at Bayern Munich, Thomas Muller, this week suggested his old boss has a habit of over-thinking things on these huge occasions.
His record in Bavaria was three semi-finals in three years but never further, which must have been frustrating for a manager who has not lifted this trophy for nine years.
Muller’s views were put to Guardiola ahead of this game and he said: “When an ex-player makes this kind of statement it’s not a criticism, it’s information for me.”
Guardiola obviously put plenty of thought into this selection.
This was a game he was desperate to win, partly because of the looming two-year Uefa ban that was handed down earlier this month.
And partly because he was up against his old rivals Real Madrid.
The reception the former Barcelona boss got when his name was read out before kick-off told you everything you needed to know.
As ever, his team selection took a few people by surprise.
Silva, Fernandinho and Aguero are all part of the club’s leadership team, while Sterling has also worn the armband. None of them started.
He was desperate to play key defender Laporte, even though he had clearly felt something in the win at Leicester on Saturday. And that backfired as he had to go off just after the half hour mark.
There was no obvious centre forward, instead a ‘false nine’ system that worked to great effect against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup semi-final last month.
Gabriel Jesus pulled out wide on the left while De Bruyne tried to push up through the centre.
It was a less gung-ho approach than we have seen from Guardiola, with City looking to get bodies into the midfield and stay tight.
After a cagey first ten minutes the new system worked well, City having much the best of the first half, including the better chances.
Yet they failed to take them and were punished just before the hour when Madrid scored with only their third meaningful attack. No matter what team or formation you pick, you can’t account for individual errors.
And neither Rodri, Nicolas Otamendi or Kyle Walker covered themselves in glory for Isco’s opener.
It came just as home supporters were getting frustrated with their team for being second best at home.
The goal knocked City out of their stride but in the 75th minute Sterling was finally introduced to give his team fresh impetus.
Jesus moved into the middle and within three minutes the Brazilian rose magnificently to nod beyond Thibaut Courtois, who really should have done better.
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Then Sterling was crudely hacked down by Dani Carvajal and De Bruyne stroked home the penalty.
Madrid ended the night looking ragged as Sergio Ramos was red-carded for hauling down Jesus, denying him the chance for a third potentially decisive goal.
Guardiola got his changes spot on giving Zidane, who once visited Bayern to train with and learn from the Spaniard, a Real schooling.
This post written by Etienne Fermie originally appeared on Football news - transfers, fixtures, scores, pictures | The Sun. Read the full post here.