Manchester City’s Champions League dream came to an end on Wednesday as they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at the Bernabeu to Real Madrid following a Fernando own goal in the 20th minute.
City were perhaps unfortunate with the way in which the winning goal was scored, but they should have done much more as Madrid coasted to yet another final.
First and foremost, City should be commended for reaching the semi-final. They finally discovered a winning formula in Europe and were the last English side left in the competition. Fans remember where they came from and from where they were, playing the mighty Real Madrid and losing by a single goal in a Champions League semi-final is no disaster.
But the reality is that despite the strides made, the game was there for the taking and City just weren’t at it. They didn’t play the game as though a place in the final was at stake – lacking intensity and struggling to create any meaningful openings; having just a single shot on target in 180 minutes of football. It’s especially perplexing when you see that the City side contained the attacking talents of Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Kevin De Bruyne. City fans were quite rightly disappointed by the efforts of their side when they could, and should, have done a lot more.
Real, for all the quality they have, were very beatable and didn’t need to play that well themselves to set up an all-Madrid final with arch-rivals Atletico. City needed just a goal and they would have been going to the San Siro, yet Toure and co looked totally disinterested and never looked like getting that all-important goal. This is a team that has run its course and will undoubtedly be better prepared for these type of games when Pep Guardiola officially takes the reins.
David Silva, although not at his best this season, was sorely missed as City had no real plan in attack, and he would surely have helped piece things together and fashion a few openings. Vincent Kompany’s latest injury blow was gutting as he continually suffers these muscle injuries and there’s a genuine chance that he will not be at the club after the summer. Still, City’s defence did their job dealing with the Real onslaught and it was their forward-thinking players who frustrated.
In all truth, not many City fans expected to reach this stage but they were filled with optimism following that euphoric home leg against PSG and a steady display at home against Madrid. They were living the dream and believing the club could end the season by lifting the most prestigious trophy in European football. It would have been a wonderful way to send off Manuel Pellegrini, who made it his mission to claim the big one before his departure.
That wasn’t to be and now City must finish in the top four to feature in next season’s Champions League. While the current campaign has had plenty of disastrous moments, top four and a trophy is satisfactory. But incoming Pep Guardiola doesn’t do satisfactory and demands the best; a coaching principle that this City side needs. To fit into a Guardiola side, the will to win must be there and that will likely result in a big summer shake-up where no-one, bar the likes of Aguero and De Bruyne, is safe.
The truth is that the side need these changes in personnel and mentality. Football is played in cycles and City have finished their cycle as a team. New blood is needed and that’s exactly what Guardiola will bring. His ruthless streak could see many fans’ favourites out the door, while Wilfried Bony, Aleksandar Kolarov and co are not cut out for his way of playing and will be flogged immediately.
All in all, City have made strides towards their goal of becoming a force in Europe. But Guardiola is the man to take the club to the next level and exciting times are on the horizon.