IAN LADYMAN: This is Guardiola's best chance to end Man City's hoodoo

IAN LADYMAN: Pep Guardiola will never have a better chance to end Man City’s Champions League hoodoo… and after watching back last year’s painful semi-final exit, he’s hoping to right the wrongs in their rematch with Real Madrid

  • Pep Guardiola rewatched last year’s Champions League exit to Real Madrid
  • Manchester City have a great opportunity for revenge in this year’s competition
  • We want REVENGE! Rodri insists Man City have a score to settle with Real Madrid

There are members of Manchester City’s squad who have still never watched the moment last year’s Champions League aspirations were washed away at the Bernabeu. 

For Pep Guardiola, that was never going to be an option. So the City manager sat down at home two days ago and watched again one of the most remarkable and catastrophic five minutes of his career unfold all over again.

‘I watched the two games against Real again to see again what happened,’ said Guardiola on Monday night.

‘What I saw was that we played exceptionally but it was not enough. That is football.’

The details of May 4 2022 at the Bernabeu will never quite leave the memories of City supporters perhaps until their club finally manages to win the Champions League. 

Pep Guardiola rewatched last year’s Champions League exit at the hands of Real Madrid

Karim Benzema scored a penalty to complete the turnaround which knocked out Man City

Guardiola’s team were 1-0 up on the night and leading 5-3 on aggregate late in the second game of last season’s semi-final. They were on the threshold of a final meeting with Liverpool in Paris.

But a couple of close calls at one end – substitute Jack Grealish denied once by a goal line clearance and then from Thibaut Courtois’ toe end – were followed by two goals at the other. Both Real goals came in added time. Soon after, Karim Benzema completed the turnaround with a penalty in extra time.

‘I haven’t watched it again,’ said City defender Rodri on Monday.

‘But what I do know is that we had 180 brilliant minutes and it wasn’t enough. Maybe we didn’t handle everything the right way but at the same time some things in football are unexplainable.’ 

Sitting in the media room deep beneath a famous stadium old stadium that remains deep in the middle of a rebuild, both Guardiola and Rodri alluded to fundamental changes that have taken place in the City team these season. 

Whether City are a better team than last season is open for debate but they are certainly different. Erling Haaland, City’s remarkable young centre forward, is one of the reasons for that and he will bring his team’s efforts something that they did not have last season.

Equally, it should not be forgotten just how well City did play when these teams met last season. Much has been made of how Real – 14 time winners – just ‘know’ how to excel in this competition. 

It’s a neat narrative. What is undeniably true, though, is that in terms of chances and possession, they were second best in both games against City and indeed against Liverpool in a final they won 1-0 with their goalkeeper as best player.

Rodri has not rewatched last year, but admitted Man City struggled to handle the situation

The arrival of hit striker Erling Haaland will give Manchester City a different dynamic to 2022

So as much as there may be some scarring present in the ranks of the English club, they are not stupid. 

They will recall how much of a chasing they gave Real in last season’s first leg in Manchester – a 4-3 victory did not reflect this – and how comfortable they were for long periods in the return in Spain.

For City, the story has a recurring theme. Guardiola, while manager of Barcelona more than a decade ago, looked so comfortable in this competition that it seemed only a matter of time until the Catalan was given the famous trophy to keep.

But in his time in Manchester, it has been less straight forward. Last year was painful while the year before they played poorly in losing a final in Porto to Chelsea of all people. Previously, in 2019, Liverpool knocked them out.

‘I am a Barcelona fan and may club did not always have it easy either,’ said Guardiola.

‘We had to wait until 1992 to win it once. After that it was better.

‘The important thing is that we are a stable club at City. One day it will be our turn. Other clubs have won it and then gone down and down.’ 

All of this makes perfect sense. It is rational. But still we know that it makes no sense that the coach of the modern era has not won the Champions League for so long.

Still it makes no sense that City – for all their sustained brilliance and domestic dominance – have not managed it at all. It’s painful – both individually and collectively – until the spell is broken.

This, on paper, seems to represent a very good opportunity. They face the second leg of this semi-final at home and then, if successful, one of the two Milan clubs in a final in Istanbul.

Manchester City may view this as the perfect opportunity to get revenge on Real Madrid

Guardiola said it took a while for his side Barcelona to win just one elite European trophy

It would not be Real in the final or Liverpool or Bayern, or new Italian champions Napoli. It would be an opponent that City would be heavily favoured to beat.

Strangely here there was no mention of the treble that City are chasing. That was simply because everything feels as though it hinges on what happens tonight. 

Football really is all about what happens in the next game but on this occasion it is very hard indeed to look forward without looking back. 

City need less drama this time round, less excitement. For a team that currently can’t stop winning, a draw really would be something.

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