Manchester City are only three games away from writing their name in the annals of football history.
Pep Guardiola’s tireless quest of a trifecta of renowned trophies seemed unstoppable after a stunning victory against Real Madrid in the semifinals of the prized Champions League.
“We’ve arrived. “We can think about it, we can visualise it,” City manager Pep Guardiola said following his team’s 4-0 victory at Etihad Stadium.
Madrid’s uncontested monarchs of Europe were humbled after drawing the first leg 1-1, and the score line might have been considerably worse for the 14-time winners had it not been for the efforts of custodian Thibaut Courtois.
City appear to be an unstoppable force as they approach the Premier League, Champions League, and FA Cup championships.
They were clearly too hot for Madrid to handle, with Bernardo Silva scoring twice in the first half, Eder Militao scoring after the interval, and replacement Julian Alvarez scoring in injury time to complete a 5-1 aggregate triumph.
Madrid has battled back from the verge of defeat on countless times in the last two seasons, but this was too much for them.
After defeating the incumbent European champions, City will be favoured to defeat Inter Milan in the final on June 10 in Istanbul.
A win against Chelsea on Sunday would guarantee the club’s third consecutive league title, but Manchester United stands in their way in the FA Cup final.
United is the only English team to have won all three major titles in the same season, which they did in 1999.
City have already surpassed their rivals in Manchester as the dominating power in English football, and they may now duplicate their greatest triumph.
“We’re close, and we’re going to try,” Guardiola added.
City will compete for their first Champions League crown, while Guardiola will attempt to win it for the third time as a coach.
The strain on Europe’s greatest stage appeared to be too much for a team that had been a serial champion in local competition at times. City’s skill has seldom been called into doubt during Guardiola’s seven years in command, but their attitude in the Champions League has.
Too many times, they have come up short when the pressure was on, losing to underdogs such as Monaco, Lyon, and Tottenham.
They were in possession for much the entire two-leg semifinal against Real Madrid last year, but lost after losing a two-goal advantage in the dying few minutes at the Santiago Bernabeu.
That never seemed conceivable on this occasion, as City demonstrated that they are now ready to hoist the one trophy that has evaded them.
“After 10 or 15 minutes, I had the feeling that all of the pain we had in one season, one year, what happened last season, was there today,” Guardiola explained. “It was really difficult to lose the way we did, and I believe we had to swallow poison.” Football always provides a second opportunity.”
Carlo Ancelotti characterised Real Madrid as having a “special power to stay alive.”
“We played against an opponent who deserved to win,” Ancelotti explained. “They played with more ferocity and quality up front, and they took their chances.” They were better today than we were last year.”
After being dominated by Madrid for extended stretches in the first leg last week, City seized control from the outset in front of their own fans.
Before Bernardo’s opener, Erling Haaland had two clear chances to score, both of which were stopped by Courtois. With the fans cheering at every City challenge, it seemed only a matter of time before the home team broke through – and it did so in the 23rd minute.
After twice denied Haaland, Courtois was unable to keep Bernardo out, who sprinted onto Kevin de Bruyne’s ball before shooting in at the near post.
The relief was palpable – from Guardiola as much as anybody else in the stadium – as he turned to face the audience, double-fist-pumped, and kissed the fans.
After a sluggish first 30 minutes, Madrid erupted, with Toni Kroos hitting the crossbar from roughly 25 metres.
It served as a warning to City, and the hosts were celebrating a second goal seconds later, with Bernardo scoring again in the 37th minute.
When lkay Gündoan’s shot was stopped, Bernardo was the first to react, heading the rebound beyond Militao on the line.
In the 73rd minute, Haaland had a one-on-one with Courtois but had his effort deflected against the crossbar.
Militao diverted De Bruyne’s free kick into his own net, and City didn’t have to wait long for a third.
When Alvarez raced through and slipped a shot past Courtois in stoppage time, the crowd was already in a jubilant mood and was granted one more goal to applaud.
Guardiola won the Champions League twice with Barcelona but has yet to win it again with Bayern Munich or City.
He has only made two finals since winning the championship in 2011, losing to Chelsea in 2021.
“It’s a beautiful night for us,” Bernardo added. “We knew it was going to be tough, but beating this Madrid team 4-0 at home was wonderful… a wonderful feeling to be in the final again, and hopefully this time we can try to win it.”