Bellingham and Nunes – City’s defeat to Real Madrid goes back to last summer

Despite being the better team over the two legs, City weren’t able to score a second goal at the Etihad and came unstuck in the penalty shootout. There’s no shortage of tactical analysis for these big games, and everyone agress it comes down to fine margins.

What tipped those fine margins in Madrid’s favour? Well, events off the pitch affect those on it, and away from the xG and heat maps we can go back to the topic of last summer’s transfer window.

Put simply, Jude Bellingham was City’s top target, yet chose Madrid while City somehow ended up with Matheus Nunes who failed to make it off the bench in both legs. Bellingham was kept fairly quiet by City, but imagine if the situation was reversed with Bellingham playing for City while Madrid had Nunes. It’s easy to imagine a different outcome.

While City dominated Madrid, particularly in the second half, clear chances were hard to come by. This was in part down to the delivery from the flanks. Grealish’s limited number of assists are well documented and Doku came on to provide the spark. He created the goal but subsequently he again proved erratic. On the right, Foden was moved into the middle to increase the goal threat there, while Silva moved out wide. We rightly love the Portuguese, but he’s not the best winger in terms of assists and goals.

Mahrez was better in this sense and City failed to replace him on the right flank. The delivery of Olise is better than Bernardo, but that deal didn’t materialise. Which brings us to Cole Palmer, who has proven himself a difference maker this season. On the right flank, once Foden moved inside, he would have offered a greater threat, both in terms of assists and goals. Small margins – Silva is good, Palmer is a difference maker.

His record at penalties would have seen him better suited than either Silva or Kovacic to a shoot out. Of course, Palmer was sold to keep the net spend down when we wanted a central midfielder (Nunes) at the end of that infamous window.

There has been much talk of City v Madrid as a new classico in the Champions League. Great, but if City want it to continue, they’ll need to step up their recruitment. With their stadium renovation complete Madrid have moved back ahead in terms of revenue, and last night’s result won’t see City catch them in Deloitte’s rich list this year.

Last summer they signed Bellingham. This summer it’s expected to be Mbappe, along with Endrick and possibly Alphonso Davies. City will have to go some to match that. Paqueta is the most likely, but we’ll need others who are more than squad players.

Pep may not be at City after next season, while Madrid won’t be getting any weaker. City’s recruitment people need to up their game once more. Too often City’s signings are compared with domestic rivals in United, Liverpool or Arsenal, whereas Madrid are the benchmark if we want to win the Champions League.

In the next couple of years Pep may well be gone, along with de Bruyne, Stones, Walker and Silva. They’ll need to be an influx of top quality young players, which makes the sale of Palmer ever more bizarre. With modern scouting, most clubs are aware of the best young players and a key factor will be getting the deals for first choice targets completed.

The one good thing from Haaland’s struggles in these games against Madrid is that it reduces the likelihood of his oft mooted buy out clause being activated. He remains someone we can build around. The Norwegian thrives on those searching through balls from de Bruyne and bringing in players with better delivery would be a good start.

City’s overlooked failing – the 2023 summer transfer window

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