How do Man City recover from this?
Darren Ambrose says that Manchester City must now go on to win the Premier League
The margins were fine, desperately fine. Jack Grealish had two chances. He did well for both. If the ball had ricocheted back off Phil Foden at a different angle for the first chance. If Thibaut Courtois had been wearing smaller studs for the second. If…
What followed was impossible to explain, a freak occurrence but for the fact that Real Madrid keep doing it. This was their night but what is left of Manchester City’s season? That is a thought that will be far away in the Spanish capital but will need to return quickly.
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Pep Guardiola will be bereft. Another chance missed when he appeared to have a team capable of winning this Champions League, ending his own 11-year wait for the biggest prize in European club football. Unlike some of the previous near misses, he played it straight.
There were no shock omissions, his set up neither too aggressive as in 2018 nor too cautious as in 2019. He had tweaked the system and been eliminated by Lyon in 2020. He had surprised some by asking Ilkay Gundogan to do Rodri’s job in the following year’s final.
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Here, his substitutions, not Carlo Ancelotti’s, almost made the difference. Grealish was close to being the hero off the bench. If that had happened, City might have been narrow favourites to beat Liverpool in Paris, just as they are to win the Premier League. If…
Instead, Guardiola must lift his players, refocus them in the knowledge that the trophy that has again eluded them – the one they craved – is gone for another year. All they can do now is maintain their standards, hoping a domestic title will sate them. Easier said than done.
Rodrygo is the hero of all heroes
Rodrygo sparked a dramatic turnaround for Real Madrid against Manchester City
Omitted from the starting line-up for the more defensively-minded Federico Valverde, Rodrygo’s impact off the bench will be remembered for many years to come. Going into the final minute of the game, even he could not have imagined what would transpire.
In pulling one goal back, even with so little time remaining, he engaged the Bernabeu. Something kicked in, the muscle memory of a club that trades on its own mythology. They believed because they are Real Madrid. They are Real Madrid because they believed.
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It still took a young Brazilian to make it happen, a 21-year-old winger from Santos with the chutzpah to make this moment his own. He connected sweetly with his header for the second, a serendipitous strike given the ball had been flicked on just yards ahead of him.
Karim Benzema scored the decisive goal from the spot, bringing the coolness amid the frenzied heat of an extraordinary evening. But it was Rodrygo who made it possible. Two goals – two minutes – that even this great football club had never quite seen before.
Ancelotti somehow manages to do it again
There is always that sense that football happens around Carlo Ancelotti, an observer rather than an architect of the magic that so often surrounds his teams. That is surely a mistake. At 62 years old, Don Carlo, the great facilitator is going to the big show again.
Victory against Liverpool in Paris would bring him his fourth Champions League win as a coach, putting him out on his own as the only man to win the trophy that many times. He is already the first coach to reach the Champions League final on five occasions.
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In this era of tactical experts, where the minutiae are everything and teams operate as machines, Ancelotti’s greatest gift is to connect with players, believing in their talent, believing in them. It is harder to analyse, trickier to quantify. But its effects can be seen.
In the Bernabeu on Wednesday evening, they could be felt too. Incredibly, there are still critics of Ancelotti’s record. Winning only one Serie A title in his career is perceived as an indication that his Champions League record is more impressive than his league one.
But that La Liga triumph means that he has effectively completed European club football – winning the title in each of Europe’s five major leagues. This victory over Manchester City was a reminder that he might still be the best big-game manager around too.
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