Real Madrid 1 Manchester City 0 (aggregate: 1-0)
Perhaps the most harrowing part for Manchester City amid all the regrets and raw disappointment is the way large parts of this game seemed to pass them by. Manuel Pellegrini’s team came up short in most areas but it was their lack of punch that was most startling and the way some of their players failed them on the big occasion.
Pellegrini had made the point beforehand that if his team were to see off Real Madrid it was imperative for his star performers to rise to the challenge, but it turned out to be a hugely frustrating night for Sergio Agüero, Kevin De Bruyne and just about everybody else in garish yellow.
City barely threatened in an attacking sense, entirely in keeping with the first leg in Manchester, and their passive state went against everything Pellegrini likes to see from his team. Instead Milan can brace itself for an invasion of Madridistas on May 28th.
The key moment came in the first half when Gareth Bale’s cross went in off the unfortunate Fernando and, though the feeling persists that this is not a great Madrid side by any means, they were still markedly better than their opponents and worthy winners bearing in mind the paucity of chances for City over the two games. Agüero did not manage a single shot on target, for the fifth Champions League tie in a row. Yaya Touré and Jesús Navas were both substituted after ineffectual displays and it was another night that raises questions about Vincent Kompany’s vulnerabilities.
The giant banner unveiled before kick-off on the fondo sur, where Madrid’s most boisterous fans congregate, read: “Juntos No Hay Imposibles” (translation: “Together Nothing is Impossible”). Pellegrini had said something similar about his own team but what he had not anticipated was that Kompany’s involvement would last only 10 minutes. The Belgian is a fine captain and organiser but, unfortunately for a club with City’s ambitions, his injuries are becoming as synonymous with the modern-day City as inflatable bananas were with the old one. In total, there have been 33 injuries in Kompany’s seven and a half years at the Etihad Stadium and the latest one came with the worst timing of all.
As Kompany limped off, the City fans in the most vertiginous parts of the ground must have realised the challenge their team were facing had become even more treacherous. Yet it was still strange to see how the setback knocked City out of their early rhythm.
Pellegrini's team had begun the game confidently but the deterioration was marked for a good quarter of an hour after Kompany's departure and it took some time before City managed to shake their heads clear. They were punished in the 21st minute of this second leg when Dani Carvajal advanced from his full-back position and Bale was in space, waiting for the pass. Cutting in from the right, Bale's intention seemed to be to clip a cross to the far post but the ball took a nick off Fernando and that change to the trajectory was decisive. The ball spun over Hart, on its way just beneath the point of crossbar and post, and though Bale was announced as the scorer inside the stadium Uefa later ruled that it should be classified as an own goal.
The luck was against City but Pellegrini must have been startled about the way his players were standing off their opponents for long parts of the opening half and the fact it was not until its final stages, when Fernandinho skimmed a shot against the outside of the post, that his team managed a noteworthy attempt at the Madrid goal. David Silva’s absence always affects City’s cohesion and Pellegrini could have been forgiven at that stage for wanting more from his creative players.
Equally, City always knew from the outset that this was a night when they had to score and, on that front, nothing had changed. An equaliser would have dramatically changed the complexion and, as long as that was possible, that knowledge was never far from the minds of the home crowd.
Cristiano Ronaldo's return automatically gave Madrid a more threatening look, bearing in mind the team score an average 2.9 goals when he plays and 1.8 when he does not, but Sergio Ramos was denied a goal before half-time because of an offside decision and the opportunity was still there for City if they could find a way to get behind the opposition defence.
With that in mind, it was perplexing that they did not always attack with conviction. Navas was often on the edges of the game – a place he has come to know far too well – while Touré was off the pace during his hour on the pitch.
Modric had a chance to make it 2-0 early in the second half but, perhaps suspecting he was offside, could not apply the necessary finish. Soon afterwards, Ronaldo had a couple of chances, first with his head and then on his right foot, but Joe Hart clutched the ball both times and the Madrid crowd, desperate for a second goal, shrieked with frustration.
Pellegrini brought on Raheem Sterling and Kelechi Iheanacho but it made little difference and, barring one long-range shot from Agüero, there was nothing particularly noble about the way City left the party. They simply put on their coats and showed themselves to the door.