News of the demise of Jose Mourinho and a ruined Real Madrid was always likely to prove premature but Manchester City may never forgive themselves for their contribution to last night's rehabilitation.
Real were almost always the better, more imaginative side and Mourinho was at his most extrovert, but City had worked themselves into an astonishing lead late in the game. It might just have been the signal for a new belief in their ability to operate among the elite of Europe, but such conviction is still a somewhat haunting goal.
That it may come sooner rather than later is a hope that must continue to attach itself largely to the extraordinary powers of Yaya Touré.
He was again immense and City could in the end only weep that his influence, his magnificent understanding of what was required, did not reach quite broadly enough across the full range of his team's performance.
At half-time City had to balance something against the fact that, but for the brilliant reactions of Joe Hart, the big crisis at the Bernabeu would have been looking like just another plot line dreamt up by the director and star of his own movie, Jose Mourinho. But then who provides more spectacular ballast than Touré?
Mourinho's shaken-up Real, with Sergio Ramos and Mesut Ozil the principal victims, provided immediate support to the theory that their dismal start to the defence of their La Liga might have a lot to do, if not everything, with the fact that the Champions League is this season's overwhelming priority.
If that's true, only Hart – and then when City were threatening to disappear completely under a great cloud of passivity, Touré – prevented a perfect start to Mourinho's campaign to become the first to conquer Europe three times with separate clubs. Real came out with authority and plenty of aggression after the surprising inclusion of Mourinho's old warhorse Michael Essien.
Hart saved superbly first from Cristiano Ronaldo, a surprisingly perky one for someone who was supposed to be drowning in a vast pool of sadness, and then Gonzalo Higuain after more penetration from everyone's idea of the world's joint best player.
Sami Khedira might also have scored as Real dominated the first half and there was a point when City seemed, psychologically, halfway back to the airport. This dismal impression, after Mancini's pre-match declaration that City had come not to squeeze a result but march to victory, was relieved only by two brilliant runs from Touré. He ran at Real with all that vast power and ambition which he so regularly summons on behalf of a team who must sometimes wish they could spread his strength and bravura a little more evenly through the ranks.
Once again, Touré's effect was hugely beneficial to the spirit of his team-mates. They began to enjoy a little more possession and display a modicum of ambition.
Once again the debt to their natural-born leader, and so often phenomenal spirit, was promising to be huge.
That promise was delivered with a classic example of what he means to the champions of England who had for so long in the game been so tentative in the matter of displaying their credentials. Once again Touré surged through the middle and, as is so often the case, he did it with the most clearly defined purpose. Edin Dzeko, on for David Silva, didn't have to break stride as he guided his shot past Iker Casillas.
Real's body language briefly expressed despair but they had already displayed a vocabulary that invited scepticism about the depth of their early-season plight and it was, therefore, hardly a surprise when the thrusting Marcelo brought them level a few minutes later.
His beautifully driven shot finally broke Hart's aura of invincibility and also brought a calmness to Madrid's purpose that survived even the shock of Aleksandr Kolarov's free-kick that restored City's lead.
Mourinho had thrown on such brilliant resources as Luka Modric and Karim Benzema and it proved enough to punish City for their earlier inability to respond more deeply to the promptings of their leader Touré.
Manchester City had been poised to perform a remarkable piece of larceny and no doubt they would have taken much encouragement from it on their latest European adventure.
However, Real had too much for them, too much even for Touré, and when Benzema and Ronaldo struck at the end it was no more than a statement of the reality which had lurked for most of the night.
What do City learn from their latest ambush in Europe? Maybe, more than anything, an understanding that at the highest level of the game you need more than a spasmodic belief in your own powers – and such a massive dependence on the heart and the momentum of a man like Touré.
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