MIRROR THOUGHTS: An Insight Into Man City’s Champions League Annihilation Of Real Madrid


MIRROR THOUGHTS: An Insight Into Man City's Champions League Annihilation Of Real Madrid

The newswave was dominated by a lot of controversial discourse but none grabbed the headlines as much as Manchester City’s demolition job on Real Madrid.

For these Champions League knockout matches, we are familiar with Carlo Ancelotti’s game plan. Real Madrid will dig in and try to confine the enemy before killing them in a few decisive seconds on the counter. Occasionally, they only need to perform well for 20 minutes.

Real Madrid has averaged 46% possession in 13 Champions League knockout games under Ancelotti’s second tenure at the club.

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It seemed like another one of those games for the first 20 minutes at the Etihad: City would control the ball and occupy Real Madrid’s half, but Madrid would have many excellent opportunities to win the match on the break.

And then it just… didn’t happen.

A lot of that is about Man City’s structure. When the home team lost the ball, they covered the space of the opposition half so well that Madrid just couldn’t play their way out.

You could see Madrid try to build out from the back, realise there were no good passing options, and just revert to Thibaut Courtois booting it up the pitch and into nowhere. The plan was to play it out in slick transition moves, but City pressed and covered the space so well that they couldn’t find the passes.

Real Madrid, as we all know, believes in prioritising players over tactics, so they frequently address a systemic issue with a personal approach.

With his ball control in small spaces that defined a generation, Luka Modric has historically been a cheat code for playing through a press like this to move through the midfield and find those passes.

Modric’s performance on Wednesday night was at least excused because it appears that he wasn’t fully healthy. Even a midfielder as talented as Modric, however, Madrid shouldn’t be so dependent on him.

Another brilliant midfielder, Paul Scholes, once had a similar moment in his career. “I should have realised”, he explained, “that the very fact I was still playing for [Manchester] United at 38 years old was a sign that there was not enough pressure on us senior players from those coming into the side”.

Scholes retired in 2013 and Man Utd obviously haven’t won a league title since. I don’t think the situation is anything like that at Real Madrid, a club with exciting young talents throughout the squad.

But for this supposed youth revolution, you’d think they’d have found an answer for how to cope when Modrić isn’t fully fit.

They won’t find someone better at this than Ancelotti, unless they want to completely alter their strategy and appoint a “system” coach.

Some people, I’ve noticed, have said that Madrid should put more of an emphasis again on veteran players because of this season’s results. I hold the exact opposite opinion.

If Real wants to keep using this player-first strategy, they must come up with new, unique answers for games like these. Maybe Jude Bellingham can step in and succeed as Modri’s heir? Maybe they’re trying again for Kylian Mbappé? I’m not sure. But looking ahead is where the solutions lie.

Ten years ago, Barcelona looked totally unique with their possession-focused tactical identity. But, as John Muller explained, that approach is now the norm in football, and Barça feel like everyone else.

Madrid, by contrast, now seem distinct and refreshing just by staying the same against the tide of Barçafication. I don’t think they should ditch that.

But if the approach is to work, they need to keep refreshing those individuals and move past the era of Modrić and Toni Kroos.

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