In the hours before the match, pockets of fans killed time by taking a stroll along the Rochdale Canal. From Castlefield Basin in the centre of Manchester, out through regenerated suburbs like Ancoats and New Islington, past the red-brick mills, the warehouses and the factory chimneys that once made the city the centre of the Industrial Revolution and the centre of a new world, it is a walk through Manchester’s history.
The Etihad Stadium lies a little to the east of the canal and on Wednesday night, it staged a revolution for a new age, a revolution that is putting Manchester back at the centre of the football world, a state-owned revolution, an Abu Dhabi revolution, that is sweeping away the old order.
Manchester City, the club that existed for so long in the shadow of Manchester United, are dethroning the aristocrats of European football one by one and establishing a new order. In the quarter-finals, it was Bayern Munich who were swept aside. On Wednesday, it was the 14-times winners of this competition, Real Madrid, who were demolished.
City did not just beat the Champions League holders on Wednesday night in the second leg of their semi-final. They overwhelmed them. They outclassed them. They outran them. They out-passed them. They out-thought them. They made them look like sullen children fed up with losing. They did not miss a beat on their romp to a 4-0 win on the night, 5-1 on aggregate, that catapulted them into the final against Inter Milan in Istanbul on June 10.
Now, only Inter, who have won the tournament three times, stand between Pep Guardiola’s side and the one title that has eluded them in their second incarnation since they were bought by Abu Dhabi 15 years ago. One by one, City are taking aim at the grandes dames of the game.
Manchester City dismantled Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals thanks to a brace from Bernardo Silva (left)
Silva bent home the opening goal after 23 minutes to edge City in front following a 1-1 draw in last week’s first leg in Madrid
It was the perfect start for the Premier League champions as they looked to avenge last season’s defeat against Madrid
Pep Guardiola was ecstatic after watching Silva open the scoring for his side in this crucial semi-final second leg
This, surely, is their time. This, surely, is the year when they finally win the biggest club trophy in the game for the first time. This, surely, is the year when Guardiola, who won the competition twice with Barcelona but has not won it for 12 years, gets the job done with City and strengthens his claim to being the greatest coach of all time.
This, surely, is the year when everyone says that City are the best club side in the world and they actually go out and prove it. This is the year when Guardiola doesn’t overthink it. This is the year when the majesty of this City side gets it reward on the biggest stage.
It may also be the year, of course, when we get the verdict on the 115 charges City are facing from the Premier League about breaching Financial Fair Play rules. That is a reckoning that could change much but it is a reckoning for another day.
But in their quickening assault on the Treble, finding a way past Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid, the defending champions, was City’s biggest obstacle. It does not mean they may not yet be upset by Inter in the final or Manchester United in the FA Cup Final on June 3, but they have taken a huge leap forward towards the embrace of greatness. The first trophy to fall to them will be the Premier League if Arsenal do not beat Nottingham Forest on Saturday or if City beat Chelsea on Sunday.
Guardiola had named an unchanged side from the team that drew in the Bernabeu last Tuesday. The Madrid team featured only one difference but it was a surprise. Antonio Rudiger, who had marked Haaland out of the game in Spain and received widespread praise for his performance, was left out in favour of Eder Militao, who returned from suspension.
City started well. Madrid let them have the ball and City used it increasingly well. Kevin de Bruyne slid Haaland in behind the defence but even though he took the ball around Thibault Courtois, it ran too wide for him to shoot. He pulled it back but it was cleared. A minute later, Rodri danced into the area and dragged a shot wide.
City won the ball back relentlessly. Madrid had barely touched it by the 12th minute when Jack Grealish turned and teased Dani Carvajal on the City left and then floated in a beautiful cross to the back post.
Haaland was waiting there. The ball cleared the desperate leap of Militao and it seemed Haaland must score but he directed his header straight at Courtois from point-blank range. Courtois fell backwards into the net but he kept the header out as he fell. On the touchline, Guardiola held his head in his hands.
Haaland should have scored but midway through the half, he had another chance, did everything right and still Courtois kept it out. Manuel Akanji headed a ball back across goal, Haaland rose above Eduardo Camavinga and directed his header towards the corner of the net. Somehow, Courtois got his fingertips to it and pushed it wide.
Rodrygo (left) and Karim Benzema (right) were left shellshocked with Madrid’s defence of their European crown under threat
Erling Haaland had a number of chances on the night, with the brilliant Thibaut Courtois keeping City’s in-form striker out
Eight minutes before half time, Silva then extended City’s lead on aggregate by heading home the second goal on the night
The Portugal midfielder wheeled away in jubilation with City team-mate Erling Haaland (left) after doubling their lead
It was only a brief reprieve for Madrid. City pushed mercilessly on. John Stones and De Bruyne weaved a pretty pattern on the right and De Bruyne slid a precise pass through to Bernardo Silva, the man of the match. Bernardo turned, advanced on goal and lashed his shot past the wrong-footed Courtois.
Never mind a shot on target, Madrid had barely mustered a pass on target. They were being overwhelmed. Even when they got their first sniff of an opening after half an hour, Vinicius Junior ran on to a through ball but was comfortably outpaced by Kyle Walker. That demonstration of speed got one of the biggest cheers of the night.
Madrid finally began to show signs of life. Ten minutes before the break, Toni Kroos unleashed a thunderbolt of a shot from 25 yards out that beat Ederson but cannoned off the face of the crossbar, spiralled into the air and bounced to safety.
City hit back straight away. Grealish was Madrid’s tormentor again and when he fed Ilkay Gundogan, Gundogan burst into the box. His shot was blocked but it fell to Bernardo and he looped a clever header over David Alaba and into the net. The stadium erupted. The prize was in sight.
Tension crept into City’s play after the break. Guardiola and De Bruyne were involved in an angry exchange and when it subsided, Alaba took a free kick from 25 yards out that was dipping under the bar until Ederson touched it over.
Madrid, staring elimination at the last-four stage of the competition, appeared stunned after being blown away early on
It was an epic showing in Manchester from Silva, who put Guardiola’s men in full control of the tie by the half-time break
Eder Militao turned the ball into his own net 14 minutes from time to end any hope of another late Madrid comeback
In Guardiola’s mind, no doubt, was the memory of how Madrid had fashioned an astonishing comeback in the semi-finals last year to deny City. This Madrid side never gives up. It never stops believing it can win.
City started to look tired. When 70 minutes had elapsed and Guardiola had still not made a change, it felt as though City needed an injection of fresh energy. De Bruyne, in particular, looked exhausted.
Fifteen minutes from time, City nearly put the game out of reach. Gundogan found Haaland with a delicious backheel and Haaland controlled it and poked a right foot shot towards goal. It bounced up off the thigh of Courtois and kissed the top of the bar. Haaland wore the expression of a 52-goal striker who knew that for one night, he was coming up empty.
It didn’t matter. A minute later, De Bruyne curled in a free kick from the left, Akanji flicked it on and it cannoned off Militao and nestled in the back of the net. In added time, Phil Foden played a clever pass through to fellow substitute Julian Alvarez who finished it expertly. City were through. The entire stadium did the Poznan. In Istanbul next month, City will attempt the last act of their revolution. And it will be televised.
Julian Alvarez then came off the bench to seal a 4-0 rout for City, who will face Inter Milan in the Istanbul final next month
Their dream of landing a historic treble remains alive after this thumping victory, which keeps them fighting on three fronts