Analysis: How Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City subjugated European experts Real Madrid

Real Madrid are winners. They haven’t been giving it their all in La Liga because they were focused on the Champions League. Except that tonight, after the first leg (1-1), Real Madrid did not win, and it was not a close game. Los Blancos finished the game at the Etihad with a 4-0 thrashing. It was not a pretty picture for the renowned Champions League experts.

The worst of it, however, is that this was foreseeable, and if the game had been played for another ninety minutes, the same result or a worse score would be the consequence. Madrid ran, ran, and ran. Yet City kept the ball, sustained pressure, and forced Real Madrid into inaccuracies, inaccuracies that became chances. This was not a close match, but one side subjugating the other team as it wished to. In the past seasons, City were criticised for their rigidity and inflexibility, besides a weak mentality, as they suffered a frustrating comeback from the eventual Champions League winners, Real Madrid.

This second leg was different, though. Manchester City are not psychologically fragile, and they are flexible. They have Erling Haaland, and Julian Alvarez, a World Cup winner yet only featuring from the eighty-ninth minute (and still scored a goal, less than two minutes after). Pep Guardiola did not take risks, there were no surprises. It paid off. 

Camavinga, a midfielder that has gradually won over the hearts of Madridistas, was once again placed as left-back, often relying on his box-to-box expertise and incredible athleticism to beat his man. The problem, though, is that he rarely saw possession of the ball. Instead, he did not even defend against a ‘natural’ winger. He defended against Bernardo Silva. On paper, this you would assume is a feasible task. But it is in the brain, in the simplicity of the game, that the Portuguese won most of his 1v1’s against Camavinga.

As he touched the ball wide, drawing out Camavinga, he drifted back towards the half-space. The Frenchman, now caught out of position, is suddenly seeing Bernardo Silva with time and space, to either shoot (and that’s the first goal), or cross it for Haaland or Gundogan to take a shot. That shows best why Camavinga is unlikely to be a long-term left-back – he’s not a natural defender, and that explains why Ancelotti subbed Antonio Rudiger on in the second half. Camavinga was out of water, and Bernardo’s simplicity gave him an incredible advantage.

4-0s can rarely be explained through individuals. Camavinga was not alone in his struggle. Karim Benzema, Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo Goes ran. But they didn’t run riots, as tends to be the case. That’s because they rarely got the ball, no matter how much they effort they put in. Against a double-pivot composed of former centre-back John Stones and Rodri Hernandez, getting the ball is hard. When Kroos tried to run after Rodri, he would find Stones without complications, and he’d advance forward with the advantage on Kroos.

Sustained pressure was a major problem for Real Madrid. No matter how much they defended, City kept finding a way forward, through their rest defence. Any clearance would return the ball in City’s hands, and often in Real Madrid’s half.  

It’s impossible to attack without the ball. Real Madrid wanted the it, but never retained it for extended minutes, frequently running out of solutions to the approaching City press. Even Kroos, usually calm and composed, barely found his targets or made his through-balls. Only two instances, where Vinicius was quickly shut down by Kyle Walker, incredibly rapid and accurate in his recovery, and Ederson had the right anticipation to shut down any half-chance. There were virtually no phases where the average fan thought of Madrid threatening the host’s goal.

What’s probably the most impressive, still, is that City played their way. What they’ve played throughout the season. For years, positional play was frowned upon, deemed not good enough because of the structural needs and supposed rigidity. Madrid, supposedly, had shut it down in the past two editions of the Champions League.

But on this day, City were calm, still. When they built up a 2-0 advantage, they remained so. They passed around Madrid, without much risk, and often, without advancing much. It was Pep’s men asking Ancelotti’s guards what they were planning to do to overturn a 2-0 deficit with half an hour of the game left. That answer was not found, and after Eder Militao gave up an own goal, everyone knew it was over. Beyond the score, it was the how. Ancelotti and Real Madrid, a team known for its transitions and chaos momentums, had not played a single minute of their preferred scenario, nor anything close to it.

Manchester City didn’t only humiliate the Champion League winners. They made them dance and run, only to cash in goals, despite Thibaut Courtois miraculously finding great saves to bat away Haaland’s shots and headers. It didn’t matter, because instead of Vinicius dancing, the entire team danced to the tune of a bittersweet semi-final elimination. 

Tags Champions League Manchester City Pep Guardiola Real Madrid


  1. When Madrid loses, there are always someone dancing with craziness. It is to be expected because with so many title wins, hearts were broken over the years. However, it is a game of tactics and the approach of sitting back to get to half time with no goals is not a respectful game plan against this Man City on their turf. Madrid have players to bring a game – but it is important to note that it cannot be simply switched on after the original plan of defending and counter-attacking goes wrong. Coaches have to accept responsibility for these scenarios. Maybe defeating Barca at home by that same score line caused an error of judgement. But the reality of the successes in the past 10 years do not get wiped away with this defeat. We have a team of very young players and very old players. Last year was an aberration – it should have also been a year of transition but somehow we won a CL. Expect more of this until we re-blood the new stars. Congratulations to Man City – the winners of the day.

    1. Ahaha who cares about other fans particularly bribELona – who are howling from ELs void, cant even hear them lmao. Its kind of sad that they dont have anything to rejoice about in top of competitions because being irrelevant in 9 years.

      No team can win CL every year. Its the pinnacle of football and every team aspire to beat it. Its truly a test of quality because it comes at end of a gruelling season, particularly this one – with that poorly planned WC wedged in. Some teams play only once per week yet they dont ever qualify for CL lmao.

      Im pretty happy that RM can at least win it every other year, with their 5 wins in 10 years. I can live with that.

      We have a period of rebuild ahead, City has been relentlessly pumping in money for 11 years straight untill they found a good player mix while we have been saving money. Were currently 12th on list in spending overall last 10 years or so. Still we had our arguably best period while they havent been able to do anything with that money. Now its time to reinforce and its an end of the cycle- as all clubs eventually face sooner or later. What matters is that we have been in what, 8 straight semis, thats a LOT of money, we have a healthy economy and we dont need to beg for donations on youtube or sell Bernabéus name to stay alive.

      City have exploited UEFAs leniency (particularly via FFP circumventions) who instead chose to yap about SL to distract from real issue – huge corruption and state backed funding. For 1,6 bil you can buy an all star team that wins everything. And dont think for a second Ceferin hasnt got richer himself from turning a blind eye – both to PSG and City.

      Its all good. In this era of state backed corruption football, we had our best period and made HUGE money on our campaigns and thats something, other teams havent fared as well. Its time to revolutionize the team and I like the way Perez has spent lately, we now need to adress mid, striker and wing back positions.

      We have worlds arguably best LW, goalkeeper and most exciting mid talents. D has looked sketchy, particularly on wings but with some players to build around our core it wont be long before were back to what we do best.

      1. Agree to 100 per cent, we will come back stronger next year, even though this was not a bad year by any means.
        It is as people expect us to win every time. Flattering.

        Hala Madrid!

  2. “When Madrid loses, there are always someone dancing with craziness”

    Its pretty much one bribELona insect who cant get over the fact his team is behind RM on every tangible aspect; with a multitude of accounts here on Footbal espana – who is stu. PD enough to believe his trolling is successful. Goes by the name of John F, Sam, Tony, Sultaan, Antonio or whatever the virtual ego d’jour is.

    Imagine being him, him being alive is punishment enough, since there is no joy to be gained from own team on biggest stage xD and he wont ever be alive to see his club go ahead of Real.
    So dont be fooled by comments, its just one mentalIy iIl person.

    I mean pretty much all there needs to be said is 9 years of irrelevance and 1,6 bil in debt.

    1. I guarantee that if any of the above posters reply to any of your comments in a way you don’t like, you’ll think they are the same person as John F, Sam, Tony, Sultaan, Antonio… You’re a joke. And still a dumb racist trash.

        1. Expected response from an animal. You forgot to include my name too, you piece of garbage.

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