When, after an hour of torture, he withdrew Luka Modric from the field, Carlo Ancelotti went to meet him at the start. He put an arm over her shoulder and ruffled her hair. Affection and respect for a symbol. Also perhaps a small gesture to share the desperation of a night in which the machinery had not flowed. Dani Carvajal outlined a fairly precise summary of what had happened on the field shortly after: “The rival has been better from start to finish. They have subdued us. We have lacked a bit of courage. We’ve been too far back.”
A few minutes after the Croatian Toni Kroos left the field, so many nights the partner with whom he governed matches and scared away fears by calmly stepping on midfields full of traps. He had also left little. He also went to sit with his head down. The ball had been from Manchester City. The game had been for City, which frustrated Real Madrid, as Ancelotti explained: “We couldn’t go out and they took advantage,” he said.
The Italian coach immediately tried to focus the analysis of the season on the tough defeat against Guardiola. And that despite the fact that the particularities of the meeting lent themselves to establishing balances. It was the match in which Ancelotti became the coach who had led the most times in the European Cup, with 191. It also became his biggest defeat, along with the 4-0 conceding he led Milan against Dépor in Riazor in 2004.
For the club it was also a mark in history. Before this 4-0, Madrid only had four defeats by four or more goals in the European Cup, according to Alexis Martín-Tamayo’s count: a 5-1 against Benfica in 1965, a 5-1 against Hamburg in 1980, a 5-0 against Milan in which Ancelotti himself opened the scoring in 1989 and a 4-0 against Liverpool in 2009.
The first messages from the club also aimed to try to ensure that the debacle did not work as a determining brand. The club’s director of institutional relations, Emilio Butragueño, assured that it was not a turning point: “These players have given us a lot and deserve all the respect. In the group there are veteran and young people, it does not have to be the end of the cycle ”.
Nor does Ancelotti believe that the heavy defeat points to new needs in the group of footballers at his disposal: “Of course, with this squad you can fight, like last year.” He wanted to look ahead immediately: “We are already focused on the next Champions League, where we are going to fight to be protagonists like last year.” Still on the embers of the bonfire in which they had burned in Manchester, the Italian drew a future in which he saw himself sitting on the bench: “No one doubts, because the president has been quite clear 15 days ago. So, no one doubts, ”he said, referring to Florentino Pérez’s statements at the La Cartuja stadium after the team won the Cup.
Although all eyes were on the future, the team’s performance was worrying. The only signs of life left by Madrid in many sections of the match were fleeting bursts of survival to the limit, just the “courage” that Ancelotti had invoked the day before. Under the gale, Alaba and Courtois seemed to still be standing up. And not with those. The Belgian made five saves for Haaland in this tie, more than any other goalkeeper in this Champions League, according to Opta. Against no other team did the Norwegian try so many shots without scoring: seven, five of them on target.
But Madrid’s disconnection was very notable: in the first half alone, they allowed 13 shots, more than ever in a Champions League game since at least the 2003/04 season. Courtois saw the collapse from the front row: “They started with a lot of pressure, they got us into the area, but the problem was that we didn’t play our game and we didn’t hurt them. It cost us a lot, ”said the one who was perhaps the only footballer who performed at his level in Manchester. Little more to save from a period collapse before Guardiola.
When it was all over, Kroos returned to the grass, crossed the field to the corner of the white fans and returned last to the mouth of the tunnel, where the rest awaited him. Only then did they leave together.
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