Real Madrid s Luka Modric and Real Madrid s Toni Kroos, left, react after Manchester City scored their second goal during the Champions League semifinal second leg soccer match between Manchester City and Real Madrid at Etihad stadium in Manchester, England, Wednesday, May 17, 2023. AP
The “Kings of Europe” are usually the ones rolling past opponents and lifting the trophies at the end.
The most successful club with 14 European Cup titles, Madrid had made it to five of the last nine Champions League finals, winning all of them.
This time, though, Madrid never had a chance in a 4-0 loss at Manchester City in Wednesday’s second leg of the semifinals, being eliminated 5-1 on aggregate to a team that was superior from the start.
The only thing left for Madrid, in addition to praising its rival, was to start assessing what went wrong and planning for what’s ahead.
“It was a tough night for us,” said forward Vinícius Júnior, who scored Madrid’s winner against Liverpool in last year’s Champions League final. “We have to learn from what happened in this match so it doesn’t happen again next season. To make it to a semifinal is very difficult and we always make it, that’s not easy for other teams.”
With its recent successes still fresh, there were no calls yet for a complete makeover even though Madrid was heavily outplayed by Pep Guardiola's City in the second leg in Manchester.
“This squad did very well last year and this year, we beat City in the semifinals and we won the title, but this time we didn’t have it in us to play in another final,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “I’m convinced that this squad will do better next season and we are already focused on next season’s Champions League, when we want to be among the top contenders again.”
There were questions about Madrid's future, though, as not even Ancelotti’s permanence was certain for next season. His contract lasts through June 2024 but Brazil’s national team wants to hire the veteran Italian coach and was reportedly waiting for the end of the season to make its push.
Madrid president Florentino Pérez has said he wants to keep his coach, and Ancelotti has been publicly saying he is happy where he is.
“The club president was quite clear 15 days ago,” Ancelotti said after the loss to City. “So nobody has any doubt. What the president tells me privately I’m not going to say here.”
Ancelotti on Wednesday overtook Alex Ferguson for most games coached in the Champions League with 191. He also has a record of 107 wins since the tournament was revamped in 1992-93, and has won the most European Cup titles with four — two with Madrid and two with AC Milan.
“There is no doubt that Ancelotti should stay. He deserves it for everything that he has done and for everything that he still does for this club,” veteran Madrid midfielder Luka Modric said. “It’s always a big deal when Madrid loses, but there is no need for drama because of this defeat. We didn’t play well and City was better, that’s it. This team can still be very successful.”
But there are also doubts about the future of Modric and other key players who have their contracts ending at the end of the season, including Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos. Others without a contract in June will be Marco Asensio, Nacho Fernández, Dani Ceballos and Mariano Díaz.
“We still have a lot of players who are motivated to win many things,” Madrid right back Dani Carvajal said. “We have to keep our heads high and keep working hard to come back stronger and make it to another final.”
The loss to City practically ended Madrid’s season because the team is already out of contention in the Spanish league with four matches remaining. Madrid is still in a battle for second-place with city rival Atletico Madrid after Barcelona won the title.
Madrid ended the season with three titles — the UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup and Copa del Rey.
“It’s been a good season,” Ancelotti said. “There are four games left and we have to give it our best. Hopefully we can finish well. Reaching a Champions League semifinal is a success because only four teams can reach it. Losing a semifinal can happen.”