Match coverage

Istanbul bound: City composed in 4-0 Real rout, as a pivotal three weeks now beckon

Bernardo Silva of Manchester City celebrates scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg match between Manchester...

Premier League champions Manchester City banished their demons from twelve months ago, avenging a painful collapse against Real Madrid with a 4-0 (5-1 aggregate) win over the Champions League holders on Wednesday, earning a date with Serie A giants Inter Milan for the Istanbul final on June 10. Five games in 20 days across three competitions between now and then, what’s next?

City hit first before overpowering a tame Real showing

Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City is challenged by Eduardo Camavinga of Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg match...
de Bruyne (centre) created two assists, again proving a nuisance for Real to defend

Buoyed by their partisan Ethiad Stadium crowd, Manchester City probed in numbers and produced suffocating pressure from the first whistle.

Crucially unlike last midweek though, they converted two of their early goalscoring chances through Bernardo Silva – after a pair of sharp Thibaut Courtois saves – and had the luxury of a cushion they wouldn’t relinquish this time.

While there was an element of fortune about how Silva completed his brace after 35 minutes, as Eder Militao’s block attempt fell straight to him, there could be no such complaint as Madrid were split apart in the build-up to the Portuguese’s first finish:

John Stones’ composure – squeezing out of a tight area with two Real players pressing him – doesn’t go unnoticed, but de Bruyne’s pass gives Silva a chance he couldn’t really miss

Real started slowly, were starved of possession for sustained periods and besides Toni Kroos’ rasping drive from distance after 30 minutes, rarely looked like scoring.

Unlike the first leg where they soaked up pressure and hit their hosts on the counter-attack, City devised a plan to outnumber and outwork them off-the-ball. Whenever Vinicius Jr or Rodrygo charged forward at speed in transition, they had an answer.

Kyle Walker consistently won his individual battle with the much-lauded Vinicius, who has tormented fullbacks without warning this season – while the winger’s compatriot saw even less of the ball in threatening areas down the right-hand side.

The breakdown of potentially promising moments like these gradually began to chip away at Los Blancos‘ resolve, as they overcomplicated passing moves in response:

Rodrygo overcooked his pass to Benzema, starved of service until it was too late

City’s two-goal cushion allowed them to set the tempo, Jack Grealish and captain Ilkay Gundogan frequently winning fouls (nine between them), while recycling possession where necessary and snuffing out attacks before they developed too.

Refusing to rest on their laurels, it could’ve been an even bigger advantage: Erling Haaland missed a hat-trick of big chances and scarily that didn’t matter, even after Courtois’ leg save onto the woodwork denied the Norwegian early in the second-half.

Neither Kroos nor Luka Modric was truly impactful in the visitors’ midfield as Real were reduced to hopeful goalscoring efforts, a David Alaba free-kick forcing Ederson into an acrobatic save minutes earlier their most noteworthy chance for a while.

Benzema’s attempted pass to Valverde on the edge of the area is stopped by an alert Gundogan, cutting off the passing lane as Real were oftne stifled with their build-up play

Manuel Akanji’s header from a de Bruyne free-kick was inadvertently bundled home off the knee of Eder Militao, wrongfooting Courtois to kill off the tie as a contest after 76 minutes. If not for the Belgian’s series of saves, it would’ve been a cricket score.

Both made changes aplenty before Vinicius’ night was typified by the sequence leading to City’s fourth in stoppage-time: he got his pocket picked near the halfway line by Julian Álvarez, combining with fellow sub Phil Foden to tuck beyond Courtois.

What’s next for both?

Carlo Ancelotti, Head Coach of Real Madrid, embraces Pep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City, after the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg...
Ancelotti and Guardiola embrace at full-time after their 10th H2H meeting

City have a busy schedule as they look to complete the treble but there’s little time to savour this continental result, hosting an unpredictable Chelsea side on Sunday.

They then travel away to Brighton (May 24) and Brentford without their talisman Ivan Toney (May 28) to cap their top-flight season, before another Wembley trip awaits on June 3: a Manchester derby against arch-rivals United in the FA Cup final.

As far as the Champions League Final timeline is concerned… Inter’s domestic campaign ends an hour earlier that same Saturday, away against Torino.

Copa del Rey champions Real threatened an unlikely title charge after some inconsistent early-season form, but Xavi’s Barcelona cannot be caught with four games left – crowned champions with a 4-1 Catalan derby win on Sunday.

Morale will sting in the coming days but Los Blancos will aim to finish on a high domestically and secure second-place with Atletico two points adrift in third.

Valencia, Rayo Vallecano, Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao (June 4) are their remaining fixtures, finishing a season that promised plenty but was ultimately disappointing: they’ll be left without one of the two major titles they claimed twelve months prior.

Brazil haven’t been shy about making Carlo Ancelotti their new head coach, succeeding Tite after the 61-year-old resigned following an anticlimactic World Cup before Christmas. It’s difficult to envisage Real replacing him adequately, right now.

They’re a team in transition themselves – Kroos (33), Modric (37) and Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema (35) are all in the latter stages of their careers, thus a delicate balance between youth and invaluable experience needs to be established.

Plus, there’s the Jude Bellingham topic that must be explored as far as the health of their midfield long-term is concerned. We’ll leave that one for another day.  

Picture source: Getty Images, GIFS captured via CBS Sports broadcast