Manchester City exited the Champions League in heartbreaking fashion when Real Madrid produced a stunning late comeback at the Bernabéu to book their place in the final against Liverpool.
City led 5-3 on aggregate heading into the final minute of the 90, but Rodrygo’s quick brace sent the game into extra time before Karim Benzema’s penalty completed the upset.
Why does Pep Guardiola’s team keep collapsing at key moments on the European stage? Why did they start to lengthen in extra time? And did Kevin de Bruyne really disappear when it mattered?
Pep’s collapse curse strikes again
Manchester City’s defeat in Madrid was the latest in a long series of collapses for Pep Guardiola’s team in the Champions League.
It was the sixth time the Spaniard had been eliminated at the semi-final stage of the competition, tied with José Mourinho.
Surprisingly, of Guardiola’s 11 Champions League outings, eight have seen alarming periods in which his teams have received in quick succession.
In the semi-finals of the 2009/10 season, Guardiola’s Barcelona conceded two goals in 13 minutes against Mourinho’s Inter Milan, who won the trophy. As coach of Bayern Munich in 2014, his team conceded three goals in 18 first-half minutes, losing again in the last four, this time against Real Madrid. The following year, three goals in 17 minutes saw Bayern eliminated by Barcelona.
And the trend didn’t stop when he moved to Manchester. In 2017, two goals in eight minutes against Monaco saw City crash out of the round of 16. A year later, they were eliminated by Liverpool in the quarter-finals after conceding three goals in 19 minutes. In 2019, Tottenham scored two goals in three minutes to stun Guardiola’s side, and in 2020 City were beaten by Lyon in the quarter-finals with two goals in eight minutes.
Surely, though, with back-to-back finals in the offing, conceding three times in six minutes against Real Madrid on Wednesday night is the biggest meltdown of all.
Guardiola has won this competition before, but you are beginning to wonder if he will ever win it again.
Why did City panic and go long?
Nothing illustrated Manchester City’s desperation like the number of balls they sent skyward in the closing stages of the match. They played nine aerial duels in the second half of extra time, almost as many as the 10 in the previous hour and three quarters.
Ederson typified the change of focus. This is a goalkeeper who has completed every pass he has attempted in half a dozen Premier League games this season. He has a passing accuracy of 88 percent. In Madrid, that dropped to 64 percent. Later, it was 50 percent.
Long ball after long ball was pumped into the Real Madrid area once back in the equalizer and it was tempting to conclude that this was exactly what the Spanish side wanted. Their central defenders managed, but Manchester City’s own game plan had been completely abandoned.
The football that made them favorites was gone. This was not Guardiola’s game. His passing success dropped to 71 percent in that second half of overtime. Players were mugged six times in the last 20 minutes. That hadn’t happened once in the first 20 minutes.
There was a total panic and everything was very different from Manchester City. Even when they were behind in the Premier League, they kept passing the ball, relying on their methods. Here, swept up by the occasion, transfixed by the chaos, they became another desperate team.
What happened to de Bruyne?
Kevin de Bruyne played a crucial role in City’s first-leg victory at the Etihad Stadium, scoring the opening goal and setting up Gabriel Jesus for the second, but the Belgian was accused of failing to step up at the Bernabéu. .
His evening ended prematurely when he was substituted for Ilkay Gundogan after just 72 minutes, his early retirement at a crucial point in the game illustrating that he had not lived up to his usual standards.
De Bruyne had the luxury of being rested for City’s final game, the 4-0 win over Leeds at Elland Road, but he seemed off the pace at times, his usual close control a bit looser than we expected.
Still, however, it would be unfair to blame him for the fact that City did not progress. He left the field early and City scored his first goal shortly after, but statistics showed De Bruyne was still contributing in an attacking sense.
In fact, despite his early retirement, he created more chances (three) than any other City player, including the lovely collected pass to free Bernardo Silva for an early effort saved by Thibaut Courtois, and was also second in dribbling. (three) and shots. (two).
Maybe he wasn’t himself, but City had bigger problems elsewhere.
The city ran out of time
Daniele Orsato won’t be popular with Manchester’s blue side for some time. The referee directed a team of entirely Italian officials in a difficult night at the Bernabéu that he seemed to want to overcome as soon as possible.
The City bench had already been angered when only three minutes of added time were awarded at the end of extra time – six minutes were added at the end of the 90 – after Real systematically tried to stop play.
The hosts did their best to reduce time, as centre-back Eder Militao received physiotherapy treatment twice during the second half of extra time before being substituted in the 115th minute.
Thibaut Courtois also did his best to delay any City attack by taking his time on restarts as the other Real players did when the ball was out of play. None of them were booked for wasting time.
But to complicate matters, Orsato whistled at full time 10 seconds earlier with the ball at the feet of City goalkeeper Ederson as he was about to lob it back onto the pitch for a finishing attack.
The return of royal kings strikes again
Real Madrid have been behind at some point in each of this season’s Champions League knockout stages. They have become the first team, since 2003-04 when the Round of 16 was introduced, to lose a match in the Round of 16 (0-1 vs PSG), Quarter-Finals (2-3 vs Chelsea) and Semi-Finals (3 -4 vs Man City) in a campaign and still reach the final.
After losing in Paris, Real Madrid were down 2-0 on aggregate at half-time in the second leg before Karim Benzema scored a memorable second-half hat-trick to send Mauricio Pochettino crashing.
Benzema scored another hat-trick in a 3-1 first-leg win at Chelsea to put them in control of the tie, but the Blues turned the tables at the Bernabéu, taking a 3-0 lead to advance 4-3 in the global. However, Rodrygo pulled one back with 10 minutes remaining to force extra time before Benzema scored to give Real Madrid an incredible 5-4 aggregate win.
However, Real were still able to take their epic Champions League journey to new heights in the semi-finals. They trailed Manchester City after 94 seconds in the first leg until the 91st minute of the second tie.
City won 4-3 at the Etihad and then led 5-3 on aggregate before Rodrygo scored unbelievably twice in two minutes for 5-5 and extra time. Benzema then kept his cool from the penalty spot to complete another unthinkable comeback for Real Madrid.
Walker’s injury made things more difficult
From the first moment it was clear that Real Madrid’s main offensive weapon – at least until Rodrygo appeared from the bench to turn the tie around – would be Vinicius Junior and not Karim Benzema. But Kyle Walker had the pace and the intelligence to deal with that threat.
Time and time again he was up to the challenge in the first 45 minutes. But as the game wore on and Walker’s questionable fitness became a bigger issue, it became clear the English full-back might not see the end of the night. Could City adapt?
Oleksandr Zinchenko came on in the 72nd minute with Joao Cancelo changing sides. The first goal came after Benzema moved away from the Portuguese at the far post and hooked the ball back into Rodrygo’s path to score. The city lost control after that.