Everything comes to an end, and on Wednesday in Manchester, England, the end came for a glorious team, knocked out of the Champions League with a painful thrashing at the Etihad. It is clear that several key players in the squad, now in their thirties, have been greatly affected over the past year. Modric, Kroos and Benzema, three excellent players, have taken a step back, in addition to the departure of Casemiro. It couldn’t be the same team as before, especially considering that the recent signings have been influenced by the investment in the stadium. On the other side was City, with the same team that Madrid miraculously eliminated last season, with an added Haaland, that Nordic ogre who didn’t score but had a significant impact.
A new Madrid awaits
Los Blancos played both legs with an obsession of protecting themselves from him, pushing the midfielders deep to close the space between the center-backs and full-backs. They defended with six, leaving the midfield for Rodrygo, Modric, and Vinicius, who floated around among City’s four midfielders (Guardiola played in a classic formation when they had the ball), supported by the full-backs. Benzema was left isolated up front.
With this setup, Madrid couldn’t break out or build up play. They only suffered against a daring and inspired opponent who really shook them up in the first half.
Courtois only delayed the opening goal, and it can also be said that he limited the extent of the demolition. In the second half, City eased off the pressure, and Madrid started to get some play, but that only served to confirm that Benzema, who seemed capable of healing the sick just by touching them last season, was some way off his peak. And Vinicius had a tough nut to crack in Walker.
All of this was laid bare against a sensational City team in terms of strength, gameplay, and morale, solid in all areas of the field, achieving a result that, when seen from Madrid’s perspective, signals the end of a cycle. Among the players who went through the pain of the defeat were those who had won five Champions League titles, and they still deserve much respect on such a tough night.