It didn’t even come close to being the most impressive thing from Manchester City’s point of view as they stormed into the Champions League final; another step closer to ultimate, immortality.
The power came during an exhausting first half, as Bernardo Silva scored two and Real Madrid were reduced to quivering wrecks, thankfully the damage was no greater. Jack Grealish had one of the games of his life and he was ably supported by virtually everyone around him.
With this Madrid team on nights like this, partly because of their history – 14 European Cups and all the rest – there is usually a sense that they are never dead, that they will find a way back. Not here.
Madrid pulled together a few moves in the second half and if that is worth mentioning it was because of how one-sided it had been previously. There was never a sense that they had another comeback in them, another dose of Champions League voodoo to rival what they had devastated City with at this stage of last season’s competition.
City managed to control the second half and it was over when Manuel Akanji hit a Kevin De Bruyne free kick against Éder Militão, who saw the ball fly off him. Militão had entered the Madrid team for Antonio Rüdiger and with orders to stop Erling Haaland.
At least Madrid kept City’s king of goals from scoring, if only because Thibaut Courtois once again showed why he is the best goalkeeper in Europe. Still, the positives for Carlo Ancelotti were distressingly few, the only other being that the full-time scoring didn’t reflect City’s superiority. The Madrid manager was questioned afterwards about his future. He said there was no doubt he would stay on.
It probably said a lot that the cheers from the City crowd after the own goal weren’t overly wild, which was also the case when substitute Julian Álvarez scored the fourth in stoppage time. It was laid by a great ball from another substitute, Phil Foden – which was a key motive for the occasion. Passing City was loaded with fizz and cut.
The home fans have feasted on the trials of visiting teams, how they were routinely overrun. It’s almost like they expect to win and be lavishly entertained along the way. City defeated RB Leipzig 7-0 in the last 16 here. It became 3-0 against Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals. Now this.
City have not lost in 26 Champions League matches at the Etihad. They are on a 23-match unbeaten run in all competitions, peaking at the perfect time and playing some of the most destructive football of the Pep Guardiola era. It was another statement and they will be popular favorites to beat Internazionale in the final.
It was one of the greatest nights in City history. In the background was their impending capture of a fifth Premier League title in six seasons, along with the FA Cup final against Manchester United. But it was really in the background because this was all about the Champions League, the trophy they’re missing. And crave.
Guardiola didn’t think too long about it. He picked the same team as the first leg and demanded they impose themselves from the first whistle. It was extraordinary how they did that. City was a blur of sky blue, which made the press and the intensity, their movements and interplay so sharp. Madrid teetered and sank into two deep banks – or survival mode.
The first half was traumatic for them, Luka Modric a symbol of their difficulties. Twice in the first 20 minutes he made a mistake with passes and his evening didn’t get any better. It was hard to imagine him struggling so hard for his rhythm, although he was far from the only Madrid player to barely show up.
Rodri dragged wide in the early run, then Courtois made a pair of high-end saves to fend off Haaland headers, the second breathtaking. City’s relentless pressure was evident when De Bruyne made a low pass to Silva, who had melted into the space behind the Madrid defence. Silva never looked missing, the finish lifted in the near corner.
Madrid barely came out in the first half, although Toni Kroos did fire a vicious shot from distance in the 35th minute that rattled the crossbar. Moments before, Kyle Walker had chased back at high speed to get the ball at Vinicius Jr. to nibble away. The home crowd loved that.
City won every game; Madrid looked shocked. Things got even worse for them when Silva scored again after Grealish went in from the left and defenders pulled back, before hitting a pass into Ilkay Gundogan. Showing his twinkling toes, the midfielder worked Courtois, looping the ball for Silva, whose headed header was a snapshot of composure.
Guardiola lived every moment, feuding with De Bruyne at one point, kissing Grealish at another. Grealish terrified Madrid with his directness, tight control and dribbling, while also not neglecting his investigative duties.
Alaba extended Ederson with a free-kick that wobbled and sank and Madrid wondered if one goal could change everything. But they didn’t threaten again until the 83rd minute when Ederson made a save from substitute Dani Ceballos and by then it was all over.
Haaland was disallowed by Courtois in the 73rd minute, the goalkeeper firing the ball onto the crossbar after a one-on-one, but it didn’t matter to City. Can someone stop them?
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