Manchester City’s time to conquer Europe may have finally come after Real Madrid were slayed by the English champions on Wednesday to reach their second Champions League final.
City thrashed the Spanish giants 4-0 at the Etihad for a 5-1 aggregate victory that exacted revenge for a dramatic semi-final exit to Madrid 12 months ago.
Pep Guardiola’s men are not just closing in on the trophy the club’s owners have desired since an Abu-Dhabi-backed takeover in 2008 began pouring billions of pounds of investment into the club.
Victory against Inter Milan in Istanbul next month could complete a treble of Premier League, FA Cup, and Champions League, matching local rivals Manchester United’s historic achievement in 1998/99.
A fifth league title in six seasons appears a foregone conclusion with City needing a maximum of three points from their final three games.
United will have their chance to protect their record as the only English club to do the treble in the first-ever Manchester derby FA Cup final on June 3.
But City appear to have cleared the biggest hurdle standing between them and immortality by killing off the Champions League monster that is Madrid.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men produced a series of thrilling escape acts to win the competition for the 14th time last season.
This time City made sure to twist the knife when they had the defending champions on the floor.
“It was so painful last season,” added Guardiola. “We had what happened in our stomach for one year. I think today everything came out.”
Courtois Denies Haaland
The collective brilliance of Guardiola’s side shone through on a night when stars Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne were kept scoreless.
Only a hat-trick of stunning saves by Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to deny Haaland his 53rd goal of the season saved the visitors from a historic humbling.
Bernardo Silva’s first-half double was the least City deserved from a near-flawless first half.
Even when they took their foot off the gas after the break, Manuel Akanji’s deflected goal and Julian Alvarez’s cool finish in stoppage time gave the scoreline a fair reflection.
Guardiola said on the eve of the game that his legacy in Manchester was “already exceptional”.
But a failure to win the Champions League at City has always been a stick to beat the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss.
Guardiola’s last lifted the European Cup 11 years ago, with a 3-1 win over Manchester United at Wembley the high point of his glorious four-year spell in charge of Barca.
Seven years into his reign at the Etihad, City got their equivalent as the might of Madrid were made to look mediocre.
“One of the highest,” said Guardiola on where the performance ranked in his managerial career.
The style, as much of as the success, of that Barcelona team was why City built an entire sporting structure to lure Guardiola to the Etihad.
His former colleagues at the Catalan giants Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain were installed as the club’s CEO and sporting director to entice Guardiola to England.
The marriage of seemingly infinite resources from the Gulf and one of the greatest managers the game has ever seen is bearing fruit.
“You cannot always win, but you can try,” said Guardiola. “We have elevated this club to be there every year. This is what makes a big team, that come May or June you are always there fighting for titles.”
Already the dominant force in English football, City stand just one match away from finally scratching their Champions League itch.