Real Madrid knock Manchester City out of Women’s Champions League

Gareth Taylor, the Manchester City manager, refused to lay the blame for his side’s Champions League exit on a lack of pre-season action after they crashed out of qualifying against Real Madrid.

A 1-0 home defeat dealt by Claudia Zornoza’s first-half strike was enough for the newcomers, Real Madrid, following a first-leg 1-1 away draw for City in Spain. They have now been knocked out by Spanish opposition for the fourth season in a row.

“We didn’t do any games in preseason and that was the situation we were in,” Taylor said. “Our pre-season preparation wasn’t great and the Olympics probably hurt us more than most teams in terms of the return to training for most of the girls.”

He was loath to use it as an excuse. “If you don’t defend in the right manner and you don’t take your chances at the other end of the pitch, you’re always leaving yourself vulnerable like that.”

In addition to a lack of pre-season football, they have been forced to navigate the early stage of the season without much of the spine of the team.

The goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck, midfielder Keira Walsh, forward Chloe Kelly and Fifa best player of the year Lucy Bronze are all out of action, while Ellen White and Georgia Stanway have yet to start a game as they shake off knocks.

A 4-0 defeat of Everton demonstrated they have the ability to overcome the absences but at the Academy Stadium they started to come undone again against Madrid having conceded late in the away leg cancelling out Caroline Weir’s effort.

City struggled to contain Real Madrid and the visiting team should have taken the lead just past the half-hour when Nahikari García slotted in after being played through but she was inexplicably flagged offside. Just shy of half-time they took a deserved lead, though. Lauren Hemp got in the way of Babett Peter’s shot but Zornoza whipped a vicious shot in from the right that took a deflection off Shaw as it flew in.

At half-time Taylor turned to the tried and tested, swapping the recruit Khadija Shaw for the England forward White.

Twice City went close to an equaliser. First, the keeper Misa Rodríguez gifted the ball to White, who squared for Caroline Weir but the Scottish forward was not expecting the passunaware and the ball rolled past her. Then Hayley Raso, recruited from Everton in the summer, snaked in from the right and hit the bar.

City ramped up the pressure and White went agonisingly close in the 79th minute, 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 crowd urged City to push forward for the goal that would take the tie to extra-time 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.