Manchester: Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City produced a breathless attacking display to overpower defending champions Real Madrid in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final tie and set up a meeting with Internazionale in the Istanbul final.
Much like the first leg in Madrid, Pep Guardiola’s men looked to dictate the tempo and enjoyed the bulk of the early possession. With just seven minutes gone, Rodri flashed a low strike across the face of goal after an intricate display of passing from the hosts.
Jack Grealish and Erling Haaland were predictably prominent in the Cityzens’ early forays into the Real Madrid area, and it was this combination which almost brought about the opening goal 15 minutes in. The England international floated a hanging cross into the area from the left of the box, which Haaland, nipping between two defenders, attacked with gusto, his downward header somehow kept out by Thibaut Courtois’ reaction stop.
The Norwegian international brought the very best out of the Madrid goalkeeper again midway through the first half. Kevin De Bruyne’s deep cross was nodded back across goal by Manuel Akanji, Haaland leaping above Eduardo Camavinga to plant a header towards the far corner. With most of the City of Manchester Stadium poised to celebrate the opener, the Belgian custodian somehow got his fingertips to the ball to divert it around the upright.
The City pressure did not waver and when De Bruyne threaded a clever pass through the Real Madrid back line for the run of Bernardo Silva, the Portuguese midfielder was able to exploit the space and guide an emphatic finish past the already-committed Courtois.
Los Blancos had scored with their first effort on Ederson’s goal in Madrid and almost repeated that feat, Toni Kroos’ powerful right-footed effort from distance cannoning off the City crossbar following an exchange of passes between Karim Benzema and Vinícius Júnior.
That scare did not force the English Premier League leaders into their shell. Barely two minutes later and Silva kept his composure to send a looping header into the net after İlkay Gündoğan’s low strike had deflected off the heels of Éder Militão.
Real Madrid looked dangerous with the few sights of goal they did carve out, David Alaba’s vicious, dipping strike from a free-kick out near the right forcing Ederson into an acrobatic one-handed stop.
However, any comeback similar to last season’s tie looked more remote with each passing minute, and instead it was Guardiola’s men who appeared the most likely to get the third goal.
Haaland’s running battle with Courtois continued, the visiting keeper spreading himself to deflect the attacker’s low strike onto the bar following Gündoğan’s smart back-heel.
Free-scoring City did manage to get their third with 15 minutes remaining. De Bruyne’s searching free-kick was flicked on by Akanji, before deflecting into the net off the unfortunate Militão.
With the holders on the verge of bowing out, Benzema and substitute Dani Ceballos both tested Ederson in the closing stages, but the Brazilian international was not be denied a clean sheet.
There was still time for Julián Álvarez to add a fourth, linking up well with fellow City replacements Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden before side-footing past the advancing Courtois to confirm Madrid’s joint heaviest defeat in the UEFA Champions League and send City to Istanbul in style.
Pep Guardiola, Man City manager, speaking to BT Sport: “It was so painful last season [losing to Real Madrid in the Champions League]. People [talk about] lack of character in these players, but in one year we’ve shown how special a group of players these are.”
Jack Grealish, Man City winger, speaking to BT Sport about the final: “Every game we play, we try to dominate the ball. The manager in there is a genius and I’m sure he will tell us where we can hurt [Inter]. It will be a tough game. They have a lot of experience. You have to be a good team to get to a final and they are a good team, so you have to give them respect.”
Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid head coach: “City played better and deserved to go through. They really pressed us at the start of the match, and that really made it difficult to build the play we wanted to. Getting into a deep analysis today isn’t sensible. It’s a painful loss. Very sore. But it can happen in football. You get to the Champions League semi-final and if a rival this strong plays better than you, then you’re left without a place in the final.”
Thibaut Courtois, Real Madrid keeper: “I don’t think the way City started was a surprise to us, we were expecting a burst of pressure: that they wouldn’t let us play out with the ball easily. We expected to be pressed back into our own penalty area. At half-time we were convinced we could turn the match around, but we weren’t crisp and clean with the passes, and that cost us.”
Courtesy: UEFA Champions League