This time Manchester City left nothing to chance as they demolished Real Madrid 4-0 to march into the Champions League final for the second time in three seasons with a 5-1 aggregate victory at a raucous Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.
A semi-final delicately poised after an electrifying 1-1 draw in the Bernabeu turned into a rout as Pep Guardiola’s City slickers dispatched the Spanish giants with consummate ease.
Bernardo Silva’s first-half double gave City control and the hosts took gleeful revenge for last season’s heartbreaking semi-final loss to the 14-time champions with Manuel Akanji credited with City’s third and Julian Alvarez adding a forth.
With Inter Milan in the final, City will be favourites to deliver the trophy Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour has craved since buying the club in 2008, having lost to Chelsea in the final two years ago.
City are unbeaten in 26 home Champions League games and that run was never in danger once Portuguese midfielder Silva whipped a shot past Thibaut Courtois in the 23rd minute and then headed his side’s second in the 37th.
The second half became a formality as holders Real, bidding to win the trophy for a sixth time in 10 seasons, were powerless to stop a relentless City side closing in on a treble.
Carlo Ancelotti’s record 191st game in charge of a Champions League team became a night to forget for the wily Italian who, for once in his illustrious career, had nothing up his sleeve.
“It’s a beautiful night for us. We knew it was going to be tough,” Silva told BT Sports. “But to beat this Madrid team 4-0 at home, it was a wonderful. A wonderful feeling to be in the final again, and hopefully this time we can win it.”
City launched 69 attacks, according to UEFA data, and but for some incredible saves by Real keeper Thibaut Courtois, they would have run up a much bigger score.
“The opponent was better than us by a large margin,” Dani Carvajal, one of four Real starters with five Champions League titles for the club, said. “They were a superior opponent.”
Expectancy and tension hung heavy in the air before kickoff inside City’s fortress, even more so as the clash was billed as a de-facto final with Inter, in their first final for 13 years despite a mediocre Serie A season, awaiting the winners.
‘One year of pain’
There was also the pain of last season when City led 5-3 on aggregate in the 89th minute of the second leg of the semi-final in the Bernabeu, only to lose 6-5 on aggregate.
“We had one year of pain in our stomach,” Guardiola, twice a Champions League winner as Barcelona manager, said.
Just as in the Spanish capital last week, City took an early stranglehold and Courtois rescued his side twice in the opening 20 minutes with saves from Erling Haaland headers, the first a little lucky, the second miraculous.
City’s breakthrough was not long coming though as Silva whipped a left-footed shot past Courtois – City’s eighth goal attempt in the opening 23 minutes.
It took Real half an hour to mount an attack and even then, City’s Kyle Walker won a sprint race with Vinicius Jr to snuff out the danger. Toni Kroos then unleashed a dipping right-foot shot against the crossbar with Ederson getting a touch.
But Silva made sure City reached halftime with one foot in the final, reacting quickest to loop a header into the net after Ilkay Gundogan’s shot was saved.
Real needed some magic to give themselves any hope and it almost arrived six minutes after halftime when David Alaba’s dipping free kick was acrobatically saved by Ederson.
Courtois did his best to keep Ancelotti’s side in the tie with yet another save from Haaland as the Norwegian was left waiting for his 53rd goal of an incredible season.
But any thoughts of a repeat of last year’s comeback were banished when Kevin De Bruyne’s whipped free kick glanced off Akanji and Eder Militao and into the net.
Alvarez, on for Haaland, put the icing on the cake on a memorable night for City when he stroked a first-time shot into the bottom corner in stoppage time.
With their place in the Istanbul showpiece secured, City can win their fifth Premier League title in six seasons this weekend and they also have an FA Cup final to look forward to.