Real Madrid return the magic of the Champions League again while Manchester City left to reflect on the curse

MADRID – Pep Guardiola may be starting to believe he’ll never win the Champions League with Manchester City.

Leading by two goals on aggregate against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu and just a matter of downtime before facing Liverpool in the final, City imploded to commit one of football’s most unthinkable collapses and spoil their chances of winning. reach a second consecutive final.

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As for winning the competition that has become an obsession for the club and Guardiola, another year passes with someone else getting their hands on the trophy. As Real and Liverpool face off at the Stade de France outside Paris, Guardiola will likely still wonder how his side could have lost that semi-final 6-5 on aggregate.

This season’s knockout stage has shown us that you should never, ever write off Real, with Carlo Ancelotti’s side overturning what seemed like lost causes to defeat Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea at the Bernabeu in the previous rounds. But with 90 minutes on the clock and City holding a two-goal lead – Riyad Mahrez’s 73rd-minute strike put them ahead 1-0 on the night and two goals clear on aggregate – Real’s luck had run out. surely exhausted.

They were against Guardiola’s City, perhaps the only team capable of stopping Liverpool’s pursuit of a quadruple, and the Premier League leaders had been so assured at the Bernabeu that goalkeeper Ederson spent 89 minutes largely in as a spectator. But what happened during the six minutes of stoppage time could forever haunt Guardiola and his ambitious club.

Real’s response was typical of the big club they are, but no team at any level should concede twice in stoppage time, especially when a place in the Champions League final is at stake. game. Some clubs just have a knack for getting the job done and winning European trophies. Real and Liverpool, who meet in the final on May 28, are perhaps the two greatest examples of teams who know how to win when it counts.

“The greatness of this club. It’s just that. It’s a club that doesn’t allow you to give up when it looks like it’s all over, it gives you the strength to keep going and keep going and fight and believe, that’s what we did,” Ancelotti said when asked how his team managed their comeback.

“The weight of this jersey, the whole history of this club, the pride we all have in being part of this club, a bit of everything.”

City lack the footballing heritage of either of these historic clubs and it shows. They have stumbled once again and, despite the billions invested in the club by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, City have yet to win the Champions League and the scars of that semi-final exit will lie deep for a long time to come. .

It’s a testament to this Real side’s determination that they managed to pull off one of the most memorable Champions League comebacks, but City have only themselves to blame. for his humiliation. On three occasions they opened a two-goal lead in the first leg at the Etihad but failed to keep Real at bay and at the Bernabeu they seemed to have produced the perfect game plan, even though stars like Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden have failed to live up to their usual high standards.

Still, they just couldn’t kill Real. Substitute Jack Grealish twice came close to making it 2-0 on the night, and surely finishing the draw, with two skyrocketing runs in the closing stages, but each time the £100m midfielder n failed to score.

In the Premier League, City always seem to appreciate small margins in their favor, but the ball bounces differently for them in the Champions League. But still, whatever their missed opportunities, it all comes down to cashing twice in stoppage time when Guardiola and his players could have been forgiven for having imagined the Eiffel Tower from the window of the Parisian hotel.

“We were close but football is unpredictable. Sometimes it’s like that and you have to accept it,” Guardiola said afterwards.

It has nothing to do with bad luck in a competition. It’s a bad base defense. Karim Benzema was given space to net Rodrygo for Real’s first goal in the 90th minute, while the City defenders then let the same player head in from six yards out a minute later, Marco Asensio having had time to cross from the right. Where was City’s game management and determination to cut time?

Perhaps their dominance of English football has worked against City at this Champions League level because they are so rarely tested. There is a naivety to their game when the pressure is on in Europe and it cost them in spectacular fashion against Real. Of course, at 2-1 in the evening, the score was 5-5 on aggregate, so City went into extra time with the tie still alive and the chance to reclaim the lead.

But their conviction had evaporated and Guardiola was unable to help them from the sidelines. The former Barcelona manager, whose second and last Champions League win with Barca came in 2011, watched as desperation grew and he probably knew the game was over when referee Daniele Orsato awarded a penalty to the Real in the 94th minute following a foul by Ruben Dias on Benzema.

Benzema, who scored from the spot with a penalty from Panenka in the first leg, resisted the temptation to try again, shooting rather low to Ederson’s left to make it 3-1 and put Real ahead for the second leg. first time of the draw. And although they had almost half an hour to come back in the draw, City were gone. Real were under tension, carried by the public and the history of the white jersey, and the result, from there, was no longer in doubt.

It is Real who will now face Liverpool – the third time the two clubs have met in the final. As for City, the wait continues. After this humiliating and brutal experience, no one knows when it will end.

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