Man City vs Real Madrid (5-1 agg): The Most Incendiary 90 Minutes In The History Of The Champions League

Man City vs Real Madrid (5-1 agg): The Most Incendiary 90 Minutes In The History Of The Champions League

The stage was set. The soldiers drew their arms. The battle cries rung out from both sections of the home and away crowd, the fervent Madridistas, and the throngs of Citizens. And boy, did Man City show up.

That was, and this is no understatement, the most incendiary and explosive performance ever seen by a side in the history of the Champions League.

Real Madrid, European royalty, with all their history and tradition in the competition, and Pep Guardiola’s Man City, the outsiders, on the quest for that last bit of silverware that will etch them into folklore and football history, the trophy that’s eluded them ever since their takeover all those years ago.

In Pep Guardiola, City have, the most eccentric, esoteric yet arguably the greatest manager of all time. Sure you could argue that Sir Alex Ferguson won his titles without spending that much on transfer fees and nurturing talent, right from his early beginnings at Aberdeen, once again beating City’s opponents tonight, Real Madrid.

You could argue that Guardiola has had the resources & some of the greatest squads available, at Barcelona he had Messi, at Bayern he had a significant budget, and at City, he’s broken the bank on several occasions to recruit the best players for his system. But mind you this is modern football. Which demands such measures.

Juego de posicion they say. Possession play. Envisioned in the heart of Catalunya, from the embers of the Johan Cruyff era and Guardiola’s playing days, the systema, the model, that has been forged for years in the heart of the Catalan city. But Guardiola’s brand of it at City, his evolution, bringing it into the English game, has been nothing short of a revelation and the Premier League titles he’s won are a testament to that, with perhaps another Premier League title to be closed and done and dusted, just like a salesman knows his ABCs – “always be closing.” Arsenal have been admirable, but City are relentless and ruthless.

City pushed high and were so unbelievably aggressive, you could almost feel how hard they pushed, hustled, harried and controlled play in the opening exchanges. After 15 minutes on the clock, Guardiola’s City had made over 160 passes, a staggering number as they laid siege on the Real goal. And by the time it was 30 minutes, that number went up to 250. The Real Madrid players were shellshocked and couldn’t comprehend what was happening on the pitch, as they looked to their manager Carlo Ancelotti with bewildered expressions on their faces, saying “What do we do?” perhaps. Such was City’s ferociousness and high octane and high adrenaline football in the opening exchanges of the match.

Erling Haaland has been a revelation at City ever since his arrival in the summer, breaking records seemingly at his will, taking his goal tally for the season to an unsurmountable 52 goals while breaking Alan Shearer’s longstanding record for a single Premier League season by scoring 36. We ran an article with an ML algorithm projecting the number of goals Haaland would get this season and it was over 60. At the time we thought, wait these numbers are just too ridiculous. But he’s on 52. The machine didn’t lie.

And Haaland, much akin to a machine, reminiscent of the Terminator or perhaps The Matrix, has been relentless. But even machines falter at times; Haaland could have easily had a hat-trick tonight but for Thibaut Courtois in the Real Madrid goal, arguably their best player on the night, denying Haaland time and time again with some inspired and unbelievable saves, not to mention Alaba hacking the ball off the line after Courtois got something on it, for Haaland’s first header, while the other two were just incomprehensible saves.

But tonight was not about Haaland or the fabled fantastic Kevin De Bruyne who got the equalizer at the Bernabeu. More often than not, Haaland and De Bruyne grab the headlines but tonight was about another player. A little diminutive Portuguese schemer named Bernardo Silva who was signed from Monaco as questions were raised about his price tag and his ability. But in essence, Bernardo has replaced David Silva for Man City, and much like the Spanish schemer, he has slotted right in doing his job in the pockets with minimal fuss. From going out wide, and hugging the touchline to cutting in and moving into cul de sacs, Bernardo showed his prowess and gift and guile tonight. And might I add, his astute finishing ability.

City sliced Real open with the ferocity of an elaneer(Tamil for coconut water) seller on the streets of Chennai or Mumbai. They hacked at Real precisely and devastatingly, early and throughout. As City’s front three of Bernardo, De Bryune, and Haaland ran amok. In truth, it could have been more. But City ended the first half 2-0 courtesy of Bernardo Silva and with a monumental 72% possession. Ask fans who’ve been watching the Champions League since the late ’90s and they’ll attest to never seeing such an utterly dominant performance in a first half in the history of the competition.

For Madrid, it was an abomination. Toni Kroos’ emphatic strike from distance in the first half which was tipped onto the crossbar by Ederson, was the only chance the Madrid giants had apart from a Rodrygo through ball which Benzema almost latched onto.

City then sat slightly back and allowed Madrid to play a bit, and Madrid tried. But City were just too damn good. Rodri, Gundogan(City’s captain on the night), and John Stones shielded the defence as Walker used perhaps his greatest gift, his raw speed, to ensure that Vinicius couldn’t do any damage. City’s backline of Diaz and Akanji and at times Rodri and Stones dropping in made sure Madrid’s attempts were just a handful, with some brilliant saves by Ederson, while on the left flank, Jack Grealish had a field day and perhaps his best performance in a City shirt against Dani Carvajal. All the City players put in what could be dubbed as the performance of their lives.

By the time Akanji and substitute Julian Alvarez(who looks like some player) made it 4-0, Madrid were spent and outplayed and outfoxed all over the pitch.

“It was not even close,” wrote David Hytner of the Guardian. And that was the truth. 14-time champions Real Madrid were utterly destroyed by the City juggernaut.

And Guardiola, who didn’t sit still for even a few seconds, rallied his players and even more so, the Etihad crowd and the City faithful. Flinging his fists in the air and gesturing to the crowd to “up the ante”, Guardiola didn’t relax for even a brief amount of time, perhaps translating and showing the watching world his energy, drive, and his ethos, reflected in his players’ kamikaze performance on the night.

By the time it was 3-0, the Etihad was rocking as the supporters who witnessed the spectacle on the night broke into the Poznan in unison. The cameras that were telecasting the game shook for a few seconds with the entire set of fans inside the Etihad jumping up and down feverishly.

But this was no ordinary instance of the Poznan. It was the utter definition of it. City are, as it stands on the verge of the treble, should they beat Chelsea this weekend, and then their arch neighbouring rivals Man United in the FA Cup. Sir Alex Ferguson once described City as United’s noisy neighbours, and tonight they showed exactly how much noise they could make. 4-0 on the night and 5-1 on aggregate.

“At home we feel incredibly comfortable in front of our people,” Guardiola told BT Sport. “I have a feeling that for one year we had a fear in our stomach about what happened last season but today we went out with everything we had. Last season was so painful and people say it was lack of character but one year later we show just how special these players are.”, which was a fitting ode to the fans and his players, by the Catalan manager.

This was for the record books. This was an unparalleled blitz of a performance. This was against Real Madrid. This was Guardiola. This was Manchester City.

A resurgent Inter stand in their way, with the cerebral Inzaghi at the helm of things looking to mastermind a miracle, but all that’s left now, is to say to Guardiola and his players, go on then, and win it for the City faithful and get the club’s name scrawled onto that Champions League trophy.

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