Real Madrid’s Fortunate Evening Reveals Truths about Man City

Real Madrid’s Fortunate Evening Reveals Truths about Man City

Pep Guardiola’s team could still win the double, but they are not the all-conquering force they were a year ago, after being knocked out of the Champions League on penalties.

Guardiola describes Manchester City’s performance against Real Madrid as ‘exceptional’ despite their Champions League exit.

The man known as football’s greatest manager considered a result that could lead to Carlo Ancelotti winning a fifth Champions League, while his own tally will remain at three. “In other sports, we would have won with those statistics,” said Pep Guardiola.

Manchester City attempted 32 shots to Real Madrid’s eight. Real converted four penalties to City’s three. Barcelona’s most successful coach cited his mentor. “Johan Cruyff said luck doesn’t exist and I agree with him.”

However, there is a case to be made that fortune did not favour City: after 210 minutes of drama, they could reflect on Real’s two deflected goals in the Bernabeu, the illness that forced Kevin De Bruyne to withdraw late in the Spanish capital, and the moment when Erling Haaland hit the bar in Manchester, when the Belgian blazed over as he appeared to cap a tour de force with a winner.

There was Bernardo Silva’s rash decision to try and chip Andriy Lunin from 12 yards; “it happens,” said a tolerant Guardiola.

There were narrow margins, and this could have been another season of continental dominance.

Ruben Dias, hardly the most outspoken of footballers, claimed City “dominated the whole game” against Real.

Typically, few can make such a claim. However, it was not as dominant as it had been when Carlo Ancelotti’s side lost 4-0 at the Etihad Stadium last season.

And, while it may be unfair to judge every game by that standard or to compare it to Bayern Munich’s quarter-final defeat in 2023, those were the standards set by City.

This season, they have not delivered a standout performance against the best. Neither will they now.

Manchester City is not the force they were. Twelve months ago.

A curious campaign could end with a double, with City out of Europe after losing only a shootout.

They won 80% of their Champions League matches this year. The alternative viewpoint is that they did not win a single game against elite opposition: in all competitions, the three best teams they have faced this season are Real Madrid, Liverpool, and Arsenal, and they have won none of their seven games against them.

The harsh interpretation is that they had a smooth transition into this season’s Champions League and, albeit narrowly, failed the first major test.

It was due in part to City’s weakness in transition, which allowed counter-attacks in both legs. They could force Real into a defensive stance at the Etihad – “they defended so deep with incredible solidarity,” said Guardiola – but their lack of decisiveness felt telling.

City scored three times in spectacular fashion at the Bernabeu, but Guardiola’s formula, when it works, is not dependent on wonder goals. Aside from the 3-3 tie in Madrid, they’ve been less effective in big games, with less devastating passing.

Haaland’s record against Real in a City shirt now stands at 0 goals in four games. This season, no City player has scored more than once against Real, Liverpool, or Arsenal:

The joint top scorers include two defenders, John Stones and Josko Gvardiol, as well as Cole Palmer, who has since scored 20 goals for Chelsea.

This is another example of the damage caused last summer. The departed Ilkay Gundogan casts an ever-increasing shadow over his former club, while Riyad Mahrez appears more irreplaceable as the internal successor, Palmer, was sold, which appears to be a major mistake.

In fairness, Jeremy Doku was an excellent substitute against Real, darting at defenders, assisting De Bruyne’s goal, and providing a wildcard.

However, City appeared to have too little else in reserve: Julian Alvarez is a willing runner who, despite his medals, lacks a bit of class.

Guardiola rearranged his 11 starters at halftime in both legs, demonstrating both ingenuity and a lack of alternatives.

Mateo Kovacic, a newcomer, came off the bench and missed a penalty. Matheus Nunes stayed on it.

Despite Josko Gvardiol’s growing prowess, the final verdict may be that last summer was somewhat of a wasted opportunity.

The city is weaker than last year. There have been hints all season that have gone unnoticed by those who view their dominance as perennial and unstoppable, disguised by long unbeaten streaks.

They have fewer match-winning players and a weaker depth chart. And if Real lacked high-class attacking reinforcements, they will arrive in the summer, with Endrick and Kylian Mbappe almost certainly joining him.

Once again, they will undoubtedly be considered the gold standard.

Real Madrid has achieved more success in Europe than any other team.

City may have eliminated them in a week when the title race could have shifted decisively in their favor.

Even after being eliminated, City left his mark on history. Consider this a draw, and they are unbeaten in 28 games; they have matched the century-old club record of 42 games without losing at home.

However, it felt the least reassuring of statistics. The more relevant number came amid a sense of normalcy: Guardiola has now won one Champions League with City out of eight seasons. This was the fourth quarter-final exit. Penalties, like away goals, contentious decisions, and late comebacks, exacerbated an already depressing atmosphere. Only in this sport, perhaps? “That’s the way football happens,” said a philosophical Guardiola. Football has been kind to him at times, but cruel at others.

Real Madrid’s Fortunate Evening Reveals Truths about Man City

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