With Stakes at Their Highest, Manchester City Rises Higher Still

It is a club that feels as if it has been built — to the exact specifications of the best coach in the world, and then equipped with the best of everything that money can buy — instead of grown. At some point, that was always going to tell. At some point, establishing yourself as the Champions League’s dominant force is less a sporting challenge and more an economic formula.

That, though, should not be allowed to disguise the style with which City swatted aside Real Madrid. Guardiola had, in the days preceding the game, detected in his players the three ingredients he believed would be required if they were to seal a place in the final against Inter Milan in Istanbul on June 10.

There was a sense of “calm,” he said, a lack of panic and anxiety. There was “tension,” too, the edge, the alertness necessary to perform. And, crucially, there was the “pain” of what happened last year, when City fell victim to that peculiar magic wielded by Real Madrid, and by Real Madrid alone. For a year, Guardiola said, his team had been forced to “swallow the poison” of that game. This was the chance to purge it.

In Wednesday’s first half, in particular, it felt as if this might come to be remembered as the high-water mark of Guardiola’s project in Manchester, the culmination of the team he has spent the past six years constructing, honing, polishing, perfecting.

By halftime, City led by 2-0, thanks to two goals from Bernardo Silva, and it would have had every reason to feel more than a little disappointed. Erling Haaland had missed two glorious opportunities. Kevin De Bruyne had whipped an effort across the face of the goal.

Real Madrid had spent 45 minutes pinned back not only in its own half but in its own penalty area, apparently powerless to break City’s spell, to escape its stranglehold. Its players, many of them veterans of multiple triumphs in this competition, seemed harried and frantic, suddenly stripped of their poise and their prowess.

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