MANCHESTER, England — Manchester City did not have the air of a team merely seeking to reach a Champions League final. Pep Guardiola’s side was not just looking to exact vengeance for the pain it suffered at the hands of Real Madrid around this time last year. It did both, of course, but it did much more, too. This was an evening for vanquishing ghosts.
Guardiola’s travails in this competition — and particularly at this stage of this competition — have become something of a theme. He and City have, over the years, developed a taste for finding new and creative ways to stumble when the Champions League lights are brightest. The names have been repeated so often that they are, now, quite familiar: Monaco and Liverpool, Tottenham and Lyon, Chelsea and Real Madrid.
Presented with the chance to fall short once again, though, City on Wednesday produced the sort of display that might erase even the worst of those memories. It is not exaggeration to suggest that, in beating Real Madrid, the reigning champion, by 4-0, City produced one of the finest performances this competition has seen.
At times, certainly in the first half, it felt as if this victory — regardless of what trophies and medals and honors might follow it — might represent the culmination of all that Guardiola has done at Manchester City, not just this season but these past six years.
Given the stakes, given the circumstance, given the opponent, the scale of City’s dominance was astonishing. Real Madrid was pinned back from the first minutes, hunkering in its own penalty area, desperately hoping the storm would pass. It did not.
Twice Erling Haaland might have scored, only to be denied by first the reflexes and then the wingspan of Thibaut Courtois, the Real Madrid goalkeeper. Bernardo Silva was a little more ruthless, fizzing City into the lead on the night and in the aggregate score line, and then coolly heading home to double the lead before halftime, effectively putting the game beyond Real Madrid’s reach.
For a while, it seemed the visitors might be able to rescue a little pride, at least, in the second half. Carlo Ancelotti’s team, at long last, managed to build a little possession, even to send the occasional flutter of nerves through the home fans. This was Real Madrid, after all, and Real Madrid do strange things in the Champions League. Nobody knows that better than Manchester City.
Such was the control of Guardiola’s team, though, that Real Madrid could not quite land a meaningful blow. Slowly, surely, its shoulders seemed to slump and its hopes began to fade. By the time Manuel Akanji flicked Kevin De Bruyne’s free kick off a defender and past Courtois for the third goal, Real Madrid’s crown had long since slipped. The fourth, added by Julián Álvarez in the dying moments, simply served as a reminder of its likely destination.