Why Pep Guardiola took Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne off before Man City’s Champions League penalty shootout loss to Real Madrid

ETIHAD STADIUM, MANCHESTER — Pep Guardiola found himself under the microscope after Manchester City’s UEFA Champions League defence ended with a penalty shootout defeat to 14-time winner Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium.

Previous setbacks for the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss in Europe’s premier competition have frequently settled upon a maverick tactical scheme that has backfired.

That was not the case on Wednesday as City dominated for long periods and were barely knocked off their stride by Rodrygo’s 12th-minute opener that put the visitors 4-3 ahead on aggregate. 

They had to wait until the 76th minute for Kevin De Bruyne to haul them level and the Belgium star blazed a glorious chance over five minutes later.

It meant extra time and the looming prospect of penalties. As such, there were raised eyebrows when Guardiola replaced top scorer and City’s first-choice penalty taker Erling Haaland with Julian Alvarez.

Then, with just eight minutes of the additional period remaining, De Bruyne made way for Croatia midfielder Mateo Kovacic.

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What happened in the Man City vs. Real Madrid penalty shootout?

Alvarez stepped up first and sent Andriy Lunin the wrong way before Ederson kept out a poor Luka Modric effort to his right.

Advantage City, but Bernardo Silva lifted his penalty down the middle and saw Lunin hold his ground to make the save. After Jude Bellingham drilled into the left corner, the Ukrainian goalkeeper denied Modric’s compatriot Kovacic.

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Phil Foden and Ederson himself dispatched kicks four and five for City but Lucas Vazquez and — fittingly — central defensive duo Nacho and Antonio Rudiger got Madrid over the line and into a semifinal against Bayern Munich.

Why did Pep Guardiola take off Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne before Man City vs. Real Madrid penalty shootout?

Speaking at his post-match press conference, Guardiola explained that Haaland and De Bruyne were suffering from unspecified fitness complaints. The same was true of defender Manuel Akanji, who made way for John Stones at the same time as Kovacic replaced De Bruyne.

“Erling and Kevin asked me to go out,” he said.  “They could not continue, like Manu.

“The game we were playing they were amazing. I’m not a big fan to make a lot of substitutions [but] Kevin, Erling and Manu asked me to go out because they could not continue.”

Both De Bruyne and Haaland have suffered injury-interrupted campaigns in 2023/24.

De Bruyne suffered a hamstring injury during the opening Premier League game of the season at Burnley in August that required surgery and sidelined him for five months.

Haaland sustained a bone stress injury in his foot during City’s 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa in December. A setback in his rehabilitation meant he spent almost two months out.

Erling Haaland penalty record

The No.9 dispatched a spot-kick in City’s 5-1 Premier League win over Luton Town last weekend, his 14th successful penalty in 16 attempts for the club. 

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Haaland fired over against Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League quarterfinal. He later scored in a 1-1 draw as Guardiola’s side progressed 4-1 on aggregate.

The Norway superstar also put a penalty wide at Sheffield United last August. City needed a last-gasp Rodri strike to claim three points at Bramall Lane.

Over the course of his career for club and country at senior and youth level, Haaland has scored 42 penalties and missed five (as per Transfermarkt).

Kevin De Bruyne penalty record

De Bruyne is a more reluctant penalty taker but took on the job for City after a succession of misses from his teammates in the 2019/20 season.

He scored the winner from the spot in a 2-1 Champions League Round of 16 win at the Santiago Bernabeu in February 2020 and his overall career record stands at a pretty impressive scored nine, missed two.

No doubt, had either Haaland or De Bruyne been fit enough to play on, Guardiola would have called upon them to do the business against Madrid instead of watching on in anguish.

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