Manchester City finished off the job they started back in February by deservedly overcoming Real Madrid to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.
Pep Guardiola’s side will now face Lyon in the one-game knockout format in Lisbon after inflicting Zinedine Zidane’s first elimination from the Champions League, the French manager having won it three times in his three previous seasons in charge.
It was a victory City fully merited as their intense pressing game forced Real into numerous mistakes, with France World Cup-winning defender Raphael Varane in particular unable to cope with the pressing of Gabriel Jesus.
He robbed Varane to set up Raheem Sterling to score in the ninth minute but Karim Benzema’s towering header before half-time set up the possibility of a tense second period.
City, though, created the better opportunities in an excellent performance – whereas Real missed the leadership and nous of central defender Sergio Ramos, who was suspended after being sent off in the first leg.
Without Ramos alongside him, the uncomfortable Varane made another error when his headed back-pass fell short of Thibaut Courtois to allow the lurking Jesus to pounce in the game’s decisive moment after 68 minutes.
Relentless City too strong for Real
City’s superiority over Real was actually more emphatic than the scoreline suggests.
From the opening seconds, with Phil Foden in an advanced role and the Spanish champions unsettled by the mobility of Sterling and Jesus, City’s relentless pressing and intensity gave them control.
It was epitomised by Jesus – who hounded Varane into submission – but City had stars all over the pitch, with Kevin de Bruyne producing some brilliant passes and Kyle Walker positive in defence and attack.
Goalkeeper Ederson was faultless when called upon and there were few signs of the defensive frailties that have undermined them in the Premier League this season.
If City perform like this against Lyon they will be difficult to stop, but the French side must not be taken lightly after disposing of Juventus.
The Champions League has always eluded City and has been out of Guardiola’s reach since his glory days at Barcelona – but if this quality and discipline can be maintained, this could be the season that all changes.
Real miss Ramos’ steel
Real Madrid captain Ramos was a noisy presence from his seat behind the technical area as he encouraged his team-mates on the pitch – but Zidane would have given anything to have him out there alongside them.
The 34-year-old remains a magnificent defender with real presence and at the Etihad Real paid a heavy price for his red card in the first leg of this quarter-final, played at the Bernabeu six months ago.
His organisation and composure was badly missed with his usual central defensive partner Varane – upon whom the burden of responsibility fell in Ramos’ absence – suffering a personal nightmare.
Jesus was Varane’s tormentor in chief, robbing him of possession to set up Sterling’s opener then chasing down his weak attempt at a headed back-pass to score City’s crucial second.
Real have the quality of Benzema as a constant threat in attack but Ramos is still the glue that holds this team together and they came badly unstuck in the face of City’s desire and energy.
Man of the match – Gabriel Jesus (Man City)
Guardiola joins exclusive club – the stats
- Pep Guardiola is the third individual to eliminate Real Madrid in the knockout stages of the Champions League on more than one occasion, along with Marcello Lippi (1995-96, 2002-03) and Ottmar Hitzfeld (2000-01, 2006-07).
- Real have been eliminated before the quarter-finals in consecutive Champions League campaigns for the first time since 2009-10 – they had reached at least the semi-finals in each of the eight seasons between 2010-11 and 2017-18.
- City’s victory marks the first time an English side have won both legs in a Champions League knockout tie against Spanish opposition since 2008-09, when Liverpool won 5-0 on aggregate against Real.
- Zinedine Zidane was eliminated from a Champions League knockout tie for the first time as Real boss, having progressed from each of the previous 12.
- Raheem Sterling scored his 100th goal in all competitions for City, becoming the first Englishman to reach three figures for the club since Dennis Tueart in 1981.
- City forward Gabriel Jesus is just the second player to score in both legs of a Champions League knockout tie against Real for an English side, after Ruud van Nistelrooy with Manchester United in 2002-03.
- Karim Benzema has scored five goals in his last six appearances in the Champions League knockout stages for Real.
More to follow.