Manchester City produced an exhilarating display to destroy Real Madrid and send the blues into the Champions League final on a glorious night for the club. A first-half brace by Bernardo Silva and goals from Manual Akanji and Julian Alvarez erased the memory of last year’s 6-5 aggregate defeat and set up a showdown in Istanbul with Inter Milan.
With the tie precariously balanced at 1-1 from the first leg, the blues knew that any slip-ups against the 14 times champions would likely result in another painful elimination at the last four stage, but this time, in front of their own fans.
After dispatching Everton at the weekend, City moved to within one win of being crowned Premier League champions for the third successive season, and the attention quickly turned to Wednesday evening’s crunch encounter with the Spanish giants.
Madrid had been making a lot of noise in the build-up towards the match, while the media kept themselves busy by trying to pair City’s top stars with other European clubs, as has become the norm whenever City have a big match to play.
But the focus of the blues, and manager Pep Guardiola, remained firmly on the task in hand, as was evident on the pitch. The boss named the same side that secured the Madrid draw and eyebrows were raised when Antonio Rudiger, who shackled Erling Haaland well in the first leg, was dropped to the bench.
And how Madrid could have done with the former Chelsea man on Wednesday as Erling Haaland twice got above the Madrid defence, only to be denied on each occasion by Thibaut Courtois in the visitor’s goal. The Belgian keeper performed heroics to keep the Spanish side in a match that City threatened to run away with.
But the shot-stopper couldn’t prevent Silva from giving City a precious lead in the 23rd minute. Kevin de Bruyne, as he so often does, found the Portuguese star in space inside the box and, after taking a couple of touches, gave Courtois no chance.
It was nothing more than City deserved for a display that was breathtakingly good, and when Silva headed home his second on 37 minutes, the fan’s dreams of Istanbul were turning into reality.
The brilliant and ever-improving Jack Grealish found the charging run of Ilkay Gundogan. The German star took four Madrid players with him, leaving both Silva and Haaland unmarked in the penalty area. Gundo’s shot deflected up and found Bernardo, who headed home from ten yards out.
In truth, 2-0 was an unfair reflection on the game as the blues should have been already out of sight, but taking a two-goal lead into the last 45 minutes of the tie was what the packed Etihad would have taken before the match.
Real tried to get back into the match in the second half and memories of last season’s fixture here, when City were 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 up, only to conceded three goals, will have been in the back of the minds of the faithful.
But City were in no mood to put their fans through that again. Ederson was up to the task when he denied David Alaba and Karim Benzema, and when Akanji scored the third, the roof threatened to leave the stadium walls and fans were ready to book their flights.
De Bruyne’s free-kick into the box flicked off the head of Akanji and, while it took a deflection off Eder Militao, ironically the replacement for Rudiger, the Swiss defender claimed it. Real looked a beaten side while City looked like they could play all night. The pre-match nerves amongst the faithful disappeared, carried away by the roar of victory that blasted into the East Manchester night. Everyone knew it. City are off to Turkey.
As the Poznan broke out amongst the faithful, there was still time to ice this wonderful European cake and add a cherry on top as well. Substitutes Phil Foden and Alvarez had barely been on the field when they combined to score the fourth in the final moments of the match.
Riyad Mahrez found Foden, who turned and delivered a defence-splitting pass for Alvarez, and the Argentine World Cup winner slid the ball past Courtois and into the bottom corner, completing a magical evening in blue.
City march on and the dream of winning another treble, this time with a European trophy, is still very much alive. Madrid will need to reassess their position after a disappointing season by their standards, but the night belonged to City and their incredible support.
Final Score: Manchester City 4-0 Real Madrid
PS: Good luck to West Ham against Alkmaar. You’ve got every single blue behind you.