City’s journey to the Champions League final in Istanbul moved closer as they faced Real Madrid in the semi-final. The blues were eager to dispel the ghosts of last season, when they took a 4-3 first leg lead to the Bernabau, and were minutes from reaching the final until they suffered two minutes of madness.
Riyad Mahrez had put City 5-3 up on aggregate with a 73rd-minute strike that looked to have sealed the tie in City’s favour. However, Rodrygo scored twice in injury time to send the tie to extra time and leave City completely shell-shocked. Karim Benzema’s 95th-minute penalty put Madrid ahead for the first time in the tie and they held on to face Liverpool in the final.
That meeting was the seventh time the two had met, their first meeting coming in 2012. City, who had won the Premier League for the first time the previous season, visited Madrid and twice took the lead, only for Real to come back and win 3-2. The return leg in Manchester ended 1-1 and the two wouldn’t meet again until the semi-final stage in 2016. On that occasion, the pair played out a goalless draw in Manchester, before the return leg saw a lacklustre display by Manuel Pellegrini’s men as they lost 1-0.
In 2020, City won 2-1 at the Bernabau before Covid disrupted the season and the two had to wait until August to finish their last 16 tie. The blues finished the job by winning 2-1 in Manchester as well.
Route To The Last Four
Madrid were favourites to retain the title they won against Liverpool last season, and their path out of the group was relatively straightforward. A 3-0 win at Celtic gave them the perfect start, which was followed up with a 2-0 win over Leipzig. Madrid edged past Shakhtar with a 2-1 home win to maintain their 100% record, which was ended with a 1-1 draw against the Ukraine side.
A 3-2 loss at Leipzig gave Madrid a wobble, but they recovered to inflict a 5-1 thrashing of Celtic in their final group game. Winning group F put Madrid in the seeded pot and were drawn against last season’s beaten finalists Liverpool.
After going 2-0 down after just 14 minutes, Madrid staged a remarkable comeback to go in level at the break, before producing a breathtaking performance to put the Mersey reds to the sword, eventually running out 5-2 winners. With the tie won on Merseyside, Real could relax and won the second leg 1-0.
Chelsea awaited the Spanish side and were duly dispatched 4-0 on aggregate, Real winning both home and away legs 2-0. But with City, it was a different story.
Pure and Total Football Sends City Through
Vinicius Junior had given Madrid a stunning first-half lead, but Kevin de Bruyne’s strike from outside the box levelled the tie in the second half to leave everything to play for in Manchester. This time, City would make no mistake and what was to follow was nothing short of perfect.
City should have been out of sight before the first goal as Courtois in the Madrid goal kept the blues, and Erling Haaland in particular, out to keep the score goalless. That was until the 23rd minute when Bernardo Silva gave City the lead.
De Bruyne’s excellent ball found Silva in acres of space inside the Madrid box. The midfielder took a couple of touches, steadied himself and rifled the ball into the back of the Madrid goal to send the faithful wild in celebration.
If the crowd were dreaming of Istanbul at that point, it would start becoming a reality 14 minutes later. Jack Grealish fed Ilkay Gundogan and, while his shot was blocked, the rebound dropped into the path of Silva, who head home his and City’s second of the night.
Taking a 2-0 lead into the break was no more than City deserved. And it was about to get better as the blues produced a display of total football that earned their place in the final.
City continued their dominance over the soon-to-be-disposed champions of Europe and when Manuel Akanji scored the third, the faithful were booking flights to and hotels in Istanbul. De Bruyne’s free kick was met by the City defender and, although it took a deflection of the Madrid defence, Akanji claimed it for his first City goal. And what a time to score it too.
The blues were through and the fans were partying in the stands as City brought on Phil Foden and Julian Alvarez. And the two combined for what must be the goal of the night.
The Stockport Iniesta was allowed time to turn and his pinpoint pass between two Madrid defenders sent Alvarez away, who finished with aplomb to complete the destruction of the Spanish side and send the blues to Istanbul and a date with Inter Milan.