It wasn’t to be this year. Real Madrid have been knocked out of the 2022/23 Champions League and they exit the competition after suffering a battering at The Etihad, where Manchester City won the semi-final second leg 4-0. There is a lot to talk about and we do so below, in the form of three pre-match questions that were quickly answered and three new debates that we’ll have over the coming days and weeks.
1. Could Real Madrid breach the fortress of The Etihad?
The main difference this year compared to last year’s semi-final was the fact that the second leg was away from home for Real Madrid. How important would that be? Well, even before the game we knew it would be tough as Manchester City came into this semi-final having won all 14 of their home games in 2023, scoring 49 and conceding just seven. As for Real Madrid’s own record at The Etihad, they had never won there on any of their four previous visits. They drew 1-1 in the 2012/13 groups, drew 0-0 in the 2015/16 semi-final first leg, lost 2-1 in the 2019/20 last 16 second leg and then lost 4-3 in last year’s semi-final first leg. Tonight, it quickly became apparent that Real Madrid weren’t going to breach the fortress that The Etihad has become, falling to a comprehensive 4-0 defeat.
2. Could Carvajal and Camavinga repeat last week’s excellence?
One of the pleasant surprises for Real Madrid in the first leg was the way that their full-backs performed, as Dani Carvajal muscled Jack Grealish out of the game and as Eduardo Camavinga pocketed Bernardo Silva and contributed in attack too. Could they repeat that here? Well, no. Not even close. Grealish had his way with Carvajal in this second leg, almost toying with the veteran Spaniard at times. On the other side, Bernardo Silva dragged Camavinga this way and that way and out of position and scored the opening two goals. There are many explanations for the way City dominated Real Madrid in this second leg, but the fact they this time won their winger-vs-full-back battles was key.
3. Was dropping Rüdiger the right call?
There was a lot of confusion in the build-up to this game over Antonio Rüdiger and whether he’d start, as was clarified in the pre-match press conference. In the end, Ancelotti decided to bench the German despite his excellent first-leg efforts to stop Haaland, returning to last year’s central defensive partnership of David Alaba and Éder Militão. Was this the right decision? Well, Haaland was far livelier in this game and forced two super saves from Courtois early on, the second of which was arguably one of the best Champions League saves of all time. But, City took the lead in the first half anyway without needing Haaland to score. Could Rüdiger have done a better job than Alaba or Militão at the two Bernardo Silva goals? We won’t ever know for sure. But, it was interesting that the first substitution Ancelotti made was to bring on Rüdiger. Although this was partly to free up Camavinga, perhaps that change was an admission that the German probably deserved the start.
1. What must Courtois be thinking?
One Real Madrid player did play at his best today and that was Thibaut Courtois. Despite having to pick the ball out of his net four times, the Belgian made some incredible saves, especially his second two saves on Haaland. What must he have been thinking during this game and afterwards? He was up to the task but could only watch on in horror as wave after wave of light blue attack kept flooding towards his goal.
2. Is bringing in Bellingham enough?
There are four LaLiga fixtures remaining, but Real Madrid’s season is effectively over now after this defeat. So, looking to the summer, what needs to happen with this squad? How much has to change? Is bringing in Jude Bellingham enough or do Real Madrid need to sign other top players too? Ancelotti was asked about this in the post-match press conference and he insisted that the current squad is already good enough to win another Champions League, but few will agree with that take.
3. Was Real Madrid’s 2022/23 good enough overall for Ancelotti to stay?
Analysing Real Madrid’s 2022/23 as a whole, was it good enough for Ancelotti to stay? He is confident that he’ll see out his contract, which runs until summer 2024, pointing to the fact that reaching the Champions League semi-finals once again was already impressive. Although the LaLiga title defence was really poor, almost non-existent, Real Madrid did win the UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup and Copa del Rey, and we shouldn’t forget that the Copa del Rey triumph included a 4-0 victory at the Camp Nou. That, combined with last season’s success, might be enough for Ancelotti t stay on. But, it is true that this has been a season of more disappointment than satisfaction.