Guardiola's tactics for Real Madrid win surprised City players, says De Bruyne

David Hytner at the Bernabéu
Photograph: Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Kevin De Bruyne said Pep Guardiola had surprised even his Manchester City players with his tactical approach to the stunning 2-1 Champions League last-16 first-leg win at Real Madrid.

The City manager omitted Fernandinho, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Agüero from his starting lineup and used De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva as central attackers in a 4-4-2 formation, with Gabriel Jesus working on the left wing.

It paid off handsomely, with City enjoying one of the finest European victories in their history. Jesus equalised Isco’s goal, which had come against the run of play, before De Bruyne scored a late penalty after Sterling had been fouled by Dani Carvajal. Real also had Sergio Ramos sent off in the closing stages.

Related: Manchester City secure famous win at Real thanks to De Bruyne and Jesus

De Bruyne said: “I think in the four years we are here with Pep we had some surprises and even the players, they don’t really know until the game starts what we need to do. This is a really good start for us. Our response [to Isco’s goal] was brilliant. Now we have the Carabao Cup final against Aston Villa on Sunday and we have to be ready.”

Guardiola praised the character of his players, who have had to deal with the pain of the club’s looming two-year ban from European football for breaches of financial fair play.

“We cannot control what happened off the pitch, only on the pitch, and the players want to do it,” Guardiola said. “These players want to do it for ourselves and our fans. It’s not easy for our club, but like I’ve said I’m so confident – hopefully the board, the lawyers, can convince Uefa we didn’t do wrong things, only nice things.

“I’m happy for the victory but the performance, as well. It’s not over, if there’s one team in the world who can overcome everything it’s Real Madrid, but for our people hopefully we can make a good performance and go through. We’ve not won anything but to win here is a big satisfaction. We hope it will help us to believe in ourselves. We need to go to any stadium and play the way we did tonight.”

The Real midfielder, Casemiro, said: “We played 75 spectacular minutes against a great team and then in just 15 minutes we didn’t do any of what we should have done. That’s why they fought back and cancelled out our lead. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us now but if there’s any team capable of overcoming this deficit, it is Real Madrid.”