City’s Champions League dream is over, as Gareth Taylor’s side fell at the first hurdle of the 2021/22 competition, succumbing to a 2-1 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid in Round Two.

Claudia Zornoza Sanchez’s strike a minute before half-time separated the sides at the Academy Stadium in the second leg, after the two sides had played out a 1-1 draw a week ago – European debutants Real levelling in injury-time in the Spanish capital.


Though City pushed for a leveller in the second half – Hayley Raso coming closest by striking the woodwork – the visitors hung on to reach the inaugural group stage.

There was some cause for celebration with the long-awaited return of fans to the Academy Stadium, as our vocal City faithful turned out to cheer on the squad for the first time in 18 months, but the result proved a major blow to our hopes for the new season.

What happened?

The opening 25 minutes proved a fairly even contest – both sides pressing for an early breakthrough with Raso and Athenea del Castillo looking dangerous on either flank.

Steph Houghton carved the game’s first real chance, heading a corner just wide of the far post, while Aurelie Kaci had a shot blocked at the other end and Nahikari García Pérez blazed over, as the Spaniards sought to threaten on the counter.

Real found the back of the net on 33 minutes – only for Nahikari’s first-time effort across Taieb to be ruled out for offside; perhaps harshly, as replays suggested.

The visitors would draw first blood though a minute before the break, as Zornoza won a corner, stinging the palms of Taieb, before smashing home the opener with a sweetly-struck first-time finish after the resulting set-piece was not cleared.

With no away goals rule in the 2021/22 tournament, there was no need for immediate panic but City came flying out of the blocks in the second half, desperate for a leveller.

Half-time substitute Ellen White almost found one within ten minutes, collecting Maria Isabel Rodriguez Rivero’s loose pass and cutting back for Caroline Weir to roll into an empty net. The Scotland international had not anticipated the pass though and could not make the crucial connection.

Real went close to doubling their advantage on the night, trying her luck from distance and drilling just wide, while Athenea also skewed wide of the mark.

City were desperately unlucky not to equalise on 64 minutes, as Raso thundered a powerful attempt off the crossbar, and White clipped a Hemp delivery wrong side of the post.

White thought she’d found a late leveller – beating the ‘keeper but watching her header cleared off the line by
Babett Peter – and Laura Coombs clipped just wide, arriving at the far post.

The home side pressed and pressed as the clock ticked down but Real survived our late flurry, as City’s disappointing record against Spanish opposition continued - one win from eight in total.

Defeat means City will now enter the 2021/22 Continental Cup group stage.

How we lined up…

Gareth Taylor made a solitary change from the side that triumphed 4-0 at Everton on Saturday, as Lauren Hemp replaced Janine Beckie on the left flank.

Karima Benameur Taieb took her place in goal, shielded by a backline of Demi Stokes, Alex Greenwood, Steph Houghton and Esme Morgan.

Laura Coombs protected the backline in the defensive midfield role, employed behind Caroline Weir and Vicky Losada, while Hemp and Hayley Raso occupied the wings. Khaidja ‘Bunny’ Shaw led the line upfront.

CITY XI | Taieb, Morgan, Houghton (C), Greenwood, Stokes, Coombs, Weir, Losada (Stanway 70’), Raso (Beckie 70’), Hemp, Shaw (White 46’)

SUBS | Keating, Kennedy, Mace, Park, Scott

REAL MADRID XI | Misa, Ivana, Peter, Teresa, K Robles, Nahikari (Asllani 86’), Kaci, Zornoza (Olga 76’), Esther (Moller 90’), Athenea, Lucia Rodriguez.

SUBS | Sofia, Lorena, M Corredera, Rocio.

Next up…

City welcome Tottenham Hotspur to the Academy Stadium for the first home FA Women’s Super League clash of 2021/22 on Sunday 12 September (18:45 UK time).

The squad then break off on international break, returning for a crunch, top-of-the-table clash with Arsenal on Sunday 25 September (18:45).

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