The point has often been made this season that La Liga’s giants have shrunk in stature. Neither Real Madrid nor Barcelona have been anywhere near their best this term.
Indeed, Los Blancos’ mere cohesion as a more stable unit in the second half of the season, rather than convincing superiority, earned them the league title over their dysfunctional rivals.
Despite a commendable resurgence to be crowned Spanish champions, Real Madrid are well short of the standard required to rule Europe and on Friday night Manchester City proved as much.
The La Liga outfit’s 2-1 defeat at the Etihad – 4-2 on aggregate – ended their Champions League run in the round of 16 with Zinedine Zidane tasting his first elimination from the competition in his fourth managerial campaign.
It was hardly the most emphatic scoreline and the fact that Raphael Varane’s errors contributed to both goals made the contest seem closer that it was, as did the defender’s admission of guilt in a remorseful post-match interview. The Frenchman is an easy target and an obvious scapegoat after two poor back passes resulted in goals for the opposition. However, to suggest that Madrid were masters of their own downfall would be doing City a disservice.
In reality, Zidane’s men were technically and tactically out-classed.
Pep Guardiola adopted a system that the opposition couldn’t get to grips with. Gabriel Jesus played off the left flank with Phil Foden operating as a false nine, regularly dropping into far deeper roles unmarked while Raheem Sterling would push forward and inside. Right-back Kyle Walker spent much of his time in central midfield where he helped control play as the extra man and City’s front three pressed Madrid’s back-line relentlessly.
And what made this performance all the more impressive was the threat the opposition posed as