Manchester City’s Champions League failure may mean a new-look squad is needed to get back to the top

Manchester City are out of the UEFA Champions League after Real Madrid beat the reigning title holders 4-3 on penalties in Wednesday’s quarterfinal second leg. Pep Guardiola’s side drew 1-1 on the night which meant extra time as last week’s 3-3 draw made it 4-4 on aggregate but the Premier League giants could not find a winning goal. Instead, Carlo Ancelotti’s men triumphed from the spot to set up a semifinal against Bayern Munich for a place in the final against Paris Saint-Germain or Borussia Dortmund.

What comes next for City is going to be very interesting given that a repeat of their 2023 treble was possible until Antonio Rudiger successfully converted his spot kick for Los Blancos and failure to match that feat inevitably brings a period of reflection. On the face of it, there is not much to be ashamed of in going out to serial UCL winners Real on penalties but it does make any potential success for the remainder of this season less of an achievement when directly compared with what came before it.

Guardiola and City were always going to struggle to replicate the importance of their first-ever Champions League title but defending their treble did feel doable up until their exit here. For the EPL leaders, domestic glory might not taste the same as continental success given their incredible form over the past year or so in Europe which was expected to continue here. Now that it has been denied, they must look at what went wrong and which areas can be improved of which there are a few despite what had initially appeared to be the best squad in the competition.

First and foremost, does Guardiola have the hunger to go again at Etihad Stadium with a rebuild necessary if City are realistically going to challenge again for UCL honors? The Catalan tactician might need a few weeks to answer that with Premier League and FA Cup silverware not necessarily enough to convince Guardiola of an instant return to European success. Given links with international management, the FIFA 2026 World Cup on the horizon and the need to change a number of these players, he could actually decide that he has done as much as he can in Manchester.

If Guardiola does decide to attempt to rebuild this City side, there are also major question marks over who he looks to rebuild with. Kevin De Bruyne is not getting any younger and has increasing injury and fitness problems, while Kyle Walker is also getting on and came close to leaving last year. That was also the case with Bernardo Silva who flirted with the exit while Jack Grealish has fallen off the radar majorly over the past year and could be allowed to go this summer.

Ilkay Gundogan already moved on last summer to Barcelona and his leadership and experience were difficult to replace and that is without even addressing the issue of Erling Haaland. The Norway international not scoring regularly at the business end of last term’s competition did not matter because his teammates managed to pick up the slack. Further anonymous showings over these two quarterfinals raise legitimate questions about Haaland’s goal-scoring prowess in the biggest games which is not unlike rival strikers in weaker European leagues.

Kylian Mbappe, though, just scored twice as PSG overcame Barcelona to reach the semis with a fairly quiet overall contribution in Paris and Catalonia so should Haaland really be exempt from that sort of interrogation? Guardiola withdrawing him before penalties even looked to be a foregone conclusion suggested that the Scandinavian star was deemed ineffective against an elite opponent like Real which could see the likes of Julian Alvarez grow in importance in the coming years.

Overall, it does not need to be a knee-jerk reaction from City but there are genuine questions that will now need answering and the response to those could end up being unexpected. The task ahead of the Premier League club regardless of the EPL title race and FA Cup outcomes was going to be significant and this has just added even more considerations to the situation. Whatever happens next, expect City to look quite different the next time they take to the field in a Champions League game next season.


[colabot]

Leave a Comment