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UEFA Women's Champions League

Women's Champions League exit only the beginning, for new-look Manchester City

09:00 BST 01/04/2021
Asisat Oshoala Lucy Bronze composite
Gareth Taylor's star-studded squad lost 4-2 on aggregate to Barcelona, despite putting in a much improved performance in the quarter-final second leg

If you look at Manchester City’s squad on paper, perhaps you would have been surprised by their elimination in the quarter-finals of this year’s Women’s Champions League.

After all, there are three World Cup winners in the team, two players who won the Champions League last season with Lyon, and a whole host of players that have won multiple trophies around the world in their careers.

But, of course, neither games, nor titles, are won on paper.

Wednesday’s exit at the hands of Barcelona was a bittersweet one for Gareth Taylor’s side. After looking defensively fragile in the first leg – understandably given Steph Houghton, their captain and the leader of their defence, was missing – City were much improved in their home game, winning 2-1.

The damage, however, was done last week, in a 3-0 defeat.

With City’s squad, some may demand more, but the fact that Lluis Cortes, the Barcelona manager, believed that the first leg was “one of the best” games his team have played this season, shows how well the Catalans performed in this tie.

Barca have been building up to Champions League glory for some time now under Cortes. Eight of their XI on Wednesday started the 2018-19 Champions League final. Two more were on the bench for that game, a 4-1 defeat to Lyon.

“The team is actually more experienced than that of two years ago,” Asisat Oshoala, the scorer of Barca’s only goal in that final, explained this week.

“We've learned a lot about how the competition is being played. Now, we're smarter. Of course, we still have to play our style of football. We have a signature which we present to the world every time, but then we have to be smart.”

That game management was evident on Wednesday. The visitors knew that the impetus was on City and that they would inevitably see more of the ball, but Barca were impressive in the spells of dominance they were afforded and got the away goal they needed through Oshoala.

City, however, are in a different place. Seven of the XI that started their final Champions League game of the 2018-19 season, a round of 32 defeat to Atletico Madrid, are not even at the club anymore.

There has been a lot of change, including in the dugout, with Gareth Taylor only appointed in the summer.

To build a team that can excel in Europe does not happen overnight. It is something that Chelsea manager Emma Hayes can attest to. “I’ve waited nine years for today,” she said on Wednesday, after her side beat Wolfsburg to reach the semi-finals.

“They've been doing this for a long time now and have probably got that [bit] more experience than what we have,” Taylor said after his side’s exit.

“I think that's what [this tie] gives us, it gives us real good experience. I'm new to the role and I just think I'll add that experience. We stick together and [when] we arrive in those moments again, I think that experience is going to help us going forward.”

When teams crash out of cup competitions, there is always the tendency to put them under the microscope and find out where it went wrong.

For City, they could have been more defensively solid in the first leg, and they could have been more clinical. Had they put away one of their two clearest chances last week, or scored from the spot when awarded a second-half penalty, things might have been different.

But there is no shame in losing to a team that is not only further along in their quest for European glory, but a team that is very, very good, too. Barcelona are top of the Primera Iberdrola with 21 wins from 21 games, 103 goals scored, three conceded.

The season is not over yet, either. City still have a fantastic chance of winning a league title, sitting two points behind Chelsea in the Women's Super League standings, with the pair to meet at the end of April in what looks set to be a title-decider.

With a Women’s FA Cup already in the bag from November, this will be a successful first season for Taylor nonetheless.

Champions League contention will not come for him and his new-look side with a click of the fingers, nor does it have to.