Football Features

Real Madrid prove they are the final boss of Champions League football as holders Man City bow out

By Harry Edwards

Published: 23:14, 17 April 2024

Manchester City’s Champions League title defence was ended in a penalty-shootout defeat to Real Madrid.

The tie was evenly-poised after a thrilling 3-3 draw in the first leg, with Man City having the slight edge with bookmakers thanks to the home advantage.

But they were facing an uphill battle from early on as Rodrygo opened the scoring for Real Madrid in the 12th minute. It was the Brazilian’s fourth goal against Man City in the Champions League, with only Lionel Messi (five) netting more against the English side since Pep Guardiola took charge.

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That goal sparked something in Man City, but for some time it looked like they would never score. It took the Citizens until the 76th minute to finally get their equaliser, with Kevin de Bruyne powering in a shot from close range after Jeremy Doku’s cross was blocked by Antonio Rudiger.

The Belgian has been the man for the Champions League knockout stages, with each of his last 11 goals in the competition coming in such matches. Four of those have come against Real Madrid, including one in the semi-final last season en route to Man City lifting the trophy.

But there was no separating the two sides in the 90 minutes, and fans were created to an extra 30. There was a big shock when Man City lined up for extra-time, with Erling Haaland taken off for Julian Alvarez.

Haaland had struggled on Wednesday night with just 21 touches and five passes completed, not to mention just one shot on target from five attempts. That was the story of Man City’s evening too. The hosts had 33 shots in total but hit the target just nine times from an xG of 2.73. They had the same number of shots as Real Madrid had % of possession, with Los Blancos quite clearly playing for penalties.

And in the end, it proved to be the right play. Despite missing their first spot-kick through Luka Modric, goalkeeper Andriy Lunin saved penalties from Bernardo Silva and Mateo Kovacic to put Real Madrid in control. After Modric’s miss, Jude Bellingham, Lucas Vazquez, Nacho Fernandez and Antonio Rudiger all converted their penalties to take the tie. Even Ederson stepping up and scoring at number five couldn’t put enough pressure on Real Madrid to cede control.

Despite being outplayed, Real Madrid are just a different beast in the Champions League. In fact, they’re the final boss.

Los Blancos have now eliminated the reigning Champions League title-holders six times in knockout ties, at least twice as often as any other side in the competition’s history. Man City have joined Chelsea (2021/22), Bayern Munich (2013/14 and 2001/02), Manchester United (1999/2000) and Borussia Dortmund (1997/98).

Realistically there shouldn’t have been any doubt of Real Madrid beating Manchester City as they always make the semi-finals of the Champions League under Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian is now five for five in semi-final appearances when taking charge of Real Madrid in the Champions League.

Ancelotti is also just the second manager in Champions League history to reach 10 semi-finals after Pep Guardiola. It’s fitting that it came against Guardiola, with Ancelotti the first manager to knock the Catalan out of the Champions League in three different campaigns.

“I think our biggest strength is that he finds a way to let a lot of the boys play with freedom,” Bellingham told TNT Sports of Ancelotti after the game.

“I think some teams are a bit more structured in terms of the passing styles and patterns of play and it’s really interesting to watch, and it’s definitely difficult to play against. But I think one of our biggest strengths is that we’re so off-the-cuff if that makes sense.

“As a man, as well, he just fills you with calmness and confidence. Before the game I caught him yawning and I said to him, ‘Boss, are you tired?’ And he went, ‘Yeah, you need to go and excite me out there’. So that’s the kind of confidence and calmness he brings.”