Man City’s greatest Champions League night, Real Madrid need Jude Bellingham and five things we learned
Manchester City marched into the Champions League final for the second time in three seasons after outclassing holders Real Madrid 4-0 for a 5-1 aggregate victory at a raucous Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.
Bernardo Silva’s first-half double put City in control against the 14-time European champions and an own goal by Eder Militao after the break and a late fourth from Julian Alvarez sealed the deal for Pep Guardiola’s side as they avenged last year’s bitter semi-final loss.
With Inter Milan awaiting in the final, City will now be huge favourites to finally deliver the trophy Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour has craved since buying the club in 2008, having lost to Chelsea two years ago.
Here are five things we learned as City booked a final date with Inter Milan on June 10.
City’s right side destroy Madrid in Guardiola’s greatest night
Manchester City were frighteningly good here - especially down their right side. It was no surprise that Guardiola named an unchanged team from last week’s 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu. This was their line-up for the big-game occasion, where Bernardo Silva’s presence on the right side of Guardiola’s attack turns City into a pressing machine without the ball, and an unstoppable force with it.
Bernardo’s two goals won the game for City and the Portuguese was man of the match, but it was his energy and drive within the early moments that set the tone from the start. Bernardo was all over Eduardo Camavinga and gave the France international a terrible time at left back.
All over that area of the pitch City won their individual battles. Kyle Walker pushed Vinicius Junior back, and then shackled him up in the other direction. John Stones enjoyed the space, Kevin De Bruyne floated and found it, leaving Luka Modric and Toni Kroos standing like statues, unsure who to pick up.
This combined quite spectacularly for City’s opening goal - with all four City players involved and De Bruyne picking the perfect pass to split Modric and Kroos and set up Bernardo, whose finish was special. It had been coming, and was scored in the area in which City were at their devastating best - their highest high under Guardiola.
Walker dominates Vinicius
A few weeks ago, Pep Guardiola said Kyle Walker couldn’t play in his new Manchester City system. Dropped to the bench for John Stones or Manuel Akanji, who as centre-backs took his place at right back, the end looked nigh for the England international.
But Guardiola never had any doubt that Walker would play a part when the most important part of the season rolled around. Against a team like Real Madrid and a devastating attacking talent like Vinicius Junior, Guardiola knew he could trust Walker to win his individual battle against the dangerous Brazilian.
If the first leg at the Bernabeu went to points - the return fixture at the Etihad saw a clear winner. Walker was outstanding against a player some argue is the best in the world on current form. Walker’s engine allowed him to push Vinicius back, before his recovery speed meant that Vinicius could never get clear on the breakaway.
Walker is just so fast and switched on to the danger. He is a cheat-code for a team like Manchester City under Guardiola and his importance to this team has rarely looked clearer. Walker finishes wearing the captain’s armband after De Bruyne and Gundogan were brought off. It’s been quite the turnaround from a few weeks ago.
Madrid finally beaten as star players show their age
At last, there’s the white flag. Madrid’s run to their 14th Champions League title last season was extraordinary but there will be no repeat for Carlo Ancelotti’s team, no miracle escape against the odds.
Manchester City made sure of that, though. Madrid’s comeback in the Bernabeu in last season’s semi-finals was special but City also missed chances to kill off the game when they were ahead in the second half.
This year, City learned that - just like in a horror film - you don’t give the zombie that’s chasing you a chance to get back up once you’ve turned your back. When Guardiola’s side were on top in their stunning first half performance, they made sure they took their chances - with Bernardo’s floated header the moment City took the tie away.
What next for Madrid? Well, it looks like they need Jude Bellingham to join their collection of some of the world’s top young talent, most likely replacing Kroos in Madrid’s midfield three. With Vinicius, Rodrygo, Camavinga, Valverde, Tchouamemi, along with Courtois and Modric, this team isn’t going anywhere. But it may also be the night where the likes of Benzema and Kroos finally show their age. It has been quite the run.
Courtois the only Madrid player to turn up
Did you see that save from Thibaut Courtois to stop Erling Haaland’s header? No, not that one. The other one. It’s remarkable enough that Courtois produced one save of the highest calibre to deny Haaland, let alone two inside the first 25 minutes. The second stop from Courtois should win ‘save of the season’, if there is such an award. It was an astonishing save, with Haaland’s header back across goal looking certain to drop inside the far post.
But then Courtois shifted his momentum, leapt to his right, and flicked the ball around the post with his fingertips. No, Thibaut, this save will not win you your Ballon d’Or - but it once again showed why the Belgian goalkeeper is the best around in his position - and even then, the goalkeeper couldn’t prevent the inevitable opener.
Courtois is the only Madrid player who comes away with any credit. Camavinga had a nightmare but at least he was noticeable. Rodrygo and Valverde were anonymous, as was Benzema.
The treble has never been closer for City
All of a sudden, Manchester City’s campaign comes down to three games. Win them all and they will secure a historic treble - that’s how close they are.
First up is Chelsea on Sunday, the chance to win the Premier League title at home and with two away games to spare. On this form, Frank Lampard’s side could quite easily be hit for five, six, or seven.
Then there’s Manchester United in the FA Cup final on June 3 - a historic occasion that will see United look to deny City their Treble claim, as Guardiola’s side look to match their achievements from 1999. The motivation for United will be clear, but it will be for City too.
Finally, on June 10, City will play in their second Champions League final - this time against Inter Milan. Realistically, after knocking out Bayern Munich and Madrid, City have done the hard part. The treble has never been closer.