By Guest Writer •
Published: 07 Jun 2023 • 10:26
“I had the feeling these last days that we had a mix of calm and the intention to play these types of games. All the pain we had last year was there today. It was really tough the way we lost. We had to swallow the poison and say, ‘I want it’.
“It was there, the energy from one year. This team is so humble. I’m so proud. They take every competition so seriously. I hate arrogance in sort, when you believe you are something that you are not. Today they got their reward. Life always gives you a second opportunity.”
After a disappointing 1-0 loss to Chelsea in Portugal back in 2021, Manchester City’s first Champions League final ended in heartbreak. Here, you could feel the relief in the words of Pep Guardiola as his side embark on righting those wrongs this season. But despite how close the fixture against Inter is drawing, you simply can’t gloss over a performance like that in the semi-finals.
The first leg was a cagey affair at the Santiago Bernabéu. Tactical. While Guardiola has been criticised in years gone by for perhaps overthinking the big games — stressing over Liverpool’s attack, not playing a holding midfielder in Portugal — he fielded his best side based on current form and kept the reigning European champions at bay for large portions of the game. Madrid took the lead but thanks to some resolute defending and a smartly taken chance by Kevin De Bruyne, the Premier League’s best ensured they could return to home with a 1-1 draw and the advantage with Champions League betting odds due to their great form.
Going back to the Etihad, the second leg was a complete juxtaposition. Continuing their lengthy unbeaten streak carried out both domestically and in Europe, City are a powerhouse at home. They play with such an intensity that they suffocate opponents. From every ball out of play launched quickly back, every corner moved quickly, and Guardiola a composer, the footballing equivalent of Enrique Granados orchestrating his side’s progress up the pitch.
There was an inevitability about City’s win when Bernardo Silva gave them the lead inside half an hour, and from there his brace, followed by goals from Manuel Akanji and Julian Alvarez served to inflict so much damage on Madrid that it was hard to believe they had so much experience on the pitch. It felt like a watershed moment in European football. A temporary power shift. A changing of the guard. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric were outrun and outfought, and it very much looks like the end of an era for a Madrid side that was so successful.
As far as City are concerned, a real opportunity has presented itself to step in and capitalise on Madrid’s transitional phase. There are few teams that can match them on their day, and it’s a big reason why many believe their season culminates with a maiden European crown.
It will be 12 years since Guardiola won his last. And while his swashbuckling Barcelona side dominated Europe with their intricate tiki-taka style, it took longer to fine-tune this group of City players. They are serial winners but with the addition of Erling Haaland — this being the first time a striker that’s scored 53 goals this season has been mentioned says it all — Guardiola had the final piece of the puzzle.
City’s dominance throughout the last few years was encapsulated in the demolition job in the semi-final second leg. To disregard Inter entirely would be foolish, but it’s hard to see anything but sky-blue ribbons on the trophy in Istanbul.
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