It was there. It was within their grasp. So close, they could almost feel it. So close, they could picture the stadium, decked in sky blue and red on May 28. Liverpool versus…

Hold on. That’s where the dream died. It will not be Manchester City in Paris, creating a third all-English final in four years. It is Real Madrid who will face down Liverpool, perhaps on the brink of a quadruple if this sucks as much life from the title race as it could.

This was simply a devastating defeat for Manchester City. Not just its consequence but its manner. For Real Madrid, this was not a comeback but a resurrection. It was on the scale of Manchester United in Nou Camp, 1999. Madrid were 5-3 down on aggregate going into the final minute of normal time; and 6-5 up five minutes into the extra time that resulted from their incredible feat of resistance. It was the first time they had led across the two entire ties: the 185th minute of the match.

Manchester City, in Europe. What is to become of them? Nothing is ever simple. Nothing straightforward. How did they lose this, having played so well on the night? A minute before Real Madrid scored, Jack Grealish, on as a substitute had two chances to put the outcome beyond doubt. The first was cleared off the line, the second sent wide by the merest touch from Thibaut Courtois in goal. And then they were out, gone. They had silenced the Bernabeu, the game was as good as won. And then it wasn’t. As a former player once asked: why always them?

Yet credit Real Madrid, too. Credit them for never knowing when they are beaten. This was a heroic display of fortitude, wrested from City by two goals from substitute Rodrygo. Coming on for Toni Kroos with the game goalless he was inspired. One goal in the final minute for what looked to be a footnote consolation, then a minute later to turn the tie on its head. City were stunned. They had been the better side for almost all of this encounter. How could this be?

Oh, it be. Karim Benzema kept quiet for most of the night and hooked a volleyed cross from the left side of the penalty area for Rodrygo’s first – Ederson was beaten to the ball by his outstretched foot. For the second Marco Asensio flicked on Dani Carvajal’s cross and the Brazilian forward rose above a now rattled defence and sent his header past Ederson. Astonishing.

Worse was to come. Extra time had barely started when Ruben Dias went in clumsily on Benzema, and Italian referee Daniele Orsato pointed to the penalty spot. By now, City were in shock and disarray; Madrid the swaggering gods of the Champions League. And no Panenka for Benzema this time. Nothing clever or fancy. He struck it low to Ederson’s left, giving him no chance. There was barely a peep out of City after that. They were done. There is something about this competition and Madrid. Liverpool is the same. Serial finalists, the pair of them. It still holds more painful memories than a fondness for City.

So was it another classic, like the first leg?

Not entirely.

The period in which Madrid returned to life aside, this was largely a tight game, with few chances. It looked as if would be decided by City’s goal 17 minutes from time, which gave Manchester City a two-goal aggregate lead. It coincided with a spell in which the hosts began to experience the first signs of self-doubt. The streets around the Bernabeu were raucous and overwhelmed before the game, the noise within, deafening. A giant banner of talisman Benzema was unveiled.

Yet as the play wore on, City’s defensive strength came increasingly to the fore. Here was the team we saw in this city last month, against Atletico. Benzema barely had a shot; Ederson barely had a serious save to make until the game was almost concluded. Kyle Walker, playing through the pain barrier, was quite brilliant against Vinicius Junior until he limped off with 20 minutes remaining. He could not have done any more and one tackle on the lightning-quick winger was just stunning. It took place at full pelt, on the slide, and in the penalty area. The tiniest misjudgement could have been fatal.

And Guardiola was making what appeared sensible, containing, changes. Ilkay Gundogan for Kevin De Bruyne was one. A goalless draw was enough. What we have, we hold. Of course, they missed De Bruyne later, but hindsight’s a wonderful thing. At the time, the Bernabeu was subdued and City were in charge. Then, having made changes to shore up the game, City scored.

What a set-up by Bernardo Silva. He ran storming through the middle, the heart of the Bernabeu, drawing opponents, creating space. Gabriel Jesus was on and looked for the obvious ball. But this is City, so Silva ignored it and went for something far harder. Telepathically, he sensed Mahrez arriving like a train.

He spurned Jesus and played him in instead. Mahrez’s shot was so powerful it did not matter that it was relatively near to Courtois in goal. He was powerless to prevent it. It was Mahrez’s seventh in the competition, a record for City in the Champions League. Not that anyone will remember that now.

Some think that being the manager of Real Madrid is just a case of getting 11 players on the field and letting them fly; that Carlo Ancelotti’s laidback demeanour is the result of living on an easy street.

Here was a game that showed why a coach gets the Real Madrid gig.

It’s not easy playing the best teams in the world; it’s not easy matching Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. And Ancelotti is not the passive presence he sometimes seems. A few times in the first half he gave a couple of none-too-subtle signals – arms outstretched in the universal WTF gesture when passes went astray or the ball was simply hoofed into space – and Madrid’s ambition gradually grew.

Look, if you haven’t led until extra time in the second leg you’ve got away with one, and Ancelotti will know that. Yet his team stayed in the game. They stayed close enough to eventually win it, and that’s down to him. De Bruyne was taken off because, largely, Madrid nullified him. Ancelotti used Luka Modric to stop Rodri from bringing the ball out of the back; he limited the impact of Mahrez until the goal. It would be wrong to say Madrid got lucky. In parts, this was a very professional performance.

As in Manchester, City had a chance to put Madrid under significant pressure in the first half. They rushed to a two-goal lead in the first leg but this was a more cautious affair. There was no shock and awe, but Silva could have made a big impact. In the 20th minute, Phil Foden won the ball on the right and Rodri picked out De Bruyne, who moved the ball swiftly to Silva. The angle was tight but Silva struck the ball well and Courtois did splendidly to keep it out.

There was plenty of needle, too. Just eight minutes gone and referee Orsato booked Aymeric Laporte and Modric after a heated clash. Laporte looked to have delivered a slap and then collapsed to the floor, as if from recoil. It was all a bit laughable really, but not the sort of behaviour Guardiola will have found amusing. His centre-half booked so soon and Benzema on the prowl. It was an early sign of indiscipline. When City review what might have been, it is likely the keeping of heads will be high on the agenda.

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Courtesy: Dailly Mail

 

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