Manchester City crashed out of Champions League qualifying after a 1-0 home defeat to newcomers Real Madrid after a 1-1 away draw ensured they were knocked out by a Spanish side for the fourth season in a row.
Claudia Zornoza’s first-half strike means Madrid will go into the new group stage of the tournament.
Last season City were eliminated by eventual champions Barcelona at the quarter-final stage after a 2-1 home win was not enough to overturn the three goals conceded in Spain. It was an improvement on the two season prior when City were knocked out by Atlético Madrid in both years, in the round of 32 in 2018-19 and in the last-16 in 2019-20.
City are having to navigate this early stage of the season without much of their spine. Goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck, defensive midfielder Keira Walsh, forward Chloe Kelly and world player of the year Lucy Bronze are all sidelined, while striker Ellen White and England’s Georgia Stanway have yet to start a game as they shake off knocks.
A blistering 4-0 defeat of Everton demonstrated that they have the ability to overcome the absences, but at a warm Academy Stadium they started to come undone again against Spanish opposition having conceded late in the away leg cancelling out Caroline Weir’s effort to leave the tie a 1-1 going into the return fixture.
City struggled to contain the Real Madrid despite having the first real chance of the match when Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw leapt highest from a Vicky Losada corner but could only head her effort wide.
Madrid should have had the lead just past the half-hour mark though when Nahikari García slotted in after being played through but she was inexplicably flagged offside. Just shy of half-time and they took a deserved lead though. Forward Lauren Hemp got in the way of Babett Peter’s shot but midfielder Zornoza whipped a vicious shot in from the right and it took a deflection off Shaw as it flew in.
At half-time and with the tie escaping Gareth Taylor turned to the tried and tested, swapping new recruit Shaw for England forward White.
Twice City went close the the leveller. First, goalkeeper Misa Rodríguez gifted White the ball who squared it for Caroline Weir but the Scottish forward was not expecting the pass and the ball rolled past her and away. Then, Hayley Raso, recruited from Everton in the summer, snaked in from the right and swiped a pacy shot off the bar.
City ramped up the pressure and White went agonisingly close in the 79th minutes, stretching to head Hemp’s ball over the outstretched hands of Rodríguez only for Peter to power the ball off the line with City fans in half celebration.
The buoyant crowd urged City to push forward for the goal that would take the tie to extrtime but for all the pressure they could not find the finish.
The early exit is a crushing blow to Taylor’s ambitious team and also means they will enter the Continental League Cup at the group stage.