MANCHESTER, England — Manchester City are the best team in Europe, which automatically makes them the best in the world, and whatever happens in the Champions League final against Inter Milan on June 10 won’t change that. Just ask Real Madrid, the reigning European champions, who were torn apart in a 4-0 dismantling in the semifinal second-leg at the Etihad Stadium.
But nobody wants to be remembered as the best team never to win the European Cup, so Inter had better brace themselves for the toughest game of their lives against City in Istanbul next month. Man City under manager Pep Guardiola are hurtling towards sporting immortality.
With City still appealing 115 charges for breaching Premier League rules between 2009 and 2018, history may yet view this team’s achievements through a different lens, but right now their football is the only barometer by which they can be measured. And having dethroned Real with a brutal display of dominance and ruthless efficiency in Manchester after a 1-1 in Madrid last week, Manchester City proved themselves to be the new kings of Europe.
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It was a rout, matching Real Madrid‘s biggest-ever Champions League defeat, which came at Anfield against Liverpool in 2008-09. Every single City player dominated his Real opponent and if they were chasing revenge for last season’s dramatic semifinal defeat against manager Carlo Ancelotti’s side, they secured it.
It was like watching the heavyweight champion of the world swatting aside a no-hoper challenger. But Real Madrid aren’t no hopers — they are Real Madrid. This was a night when Kevin De Bruyne, John Stones, Kyle Walker, Ruben Dias, Rodri, Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva, the two-goal hero in the first-half, produced 10 out of 10 displays to leave world-class opponents reeling.
No team can live with City right now. They have won 19 of their last 23 games and haven’t lost any of them. Three wins in three competitions is all they now need to secure the so-called treble.
Inter Milan might yet produce one of the biggest upsets of all-time by beating Man City at the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul next month, but nobody could argue that it would make manager Simone Inzaghi’s team better than Guardiola’s. The Nerazzurri would simply have the minor detail of a huge silver trophy as reward for winning one single game.
Perhaps that’s a little too simplistic, but Guardiola has already done what he was tasked to do by Manchester City‘s Abu Dhabi-based owners when he was appointed as manager in 2016. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach was hired to make City the best team in Europe and the world. He can tick that box as mission accomplished, but nobody at the Etihad will truly believe it or feel it until the European Cup sits in the club’s trophy cabinet.
City lost to Chelsea in their only previous Champions League final appearance in Porto in 2021, but this time around there seems to be an unstoppable momentum with Guardiola’s team.
“A final against an Italian team is not the best gift, honestly,” Guardiola said. “They [Inter] are competitive. This victory will get a lot of compliments, but we have time to prepare mentally. When you reach the final of the Champions League you have to celebrate. Unfortunately, we won’t have time because Sunday we can win the Premier League. Tomorrow will be with our families then prepare for Sunday.”
Forget talk of the treble for now. There is plenty of time to dissect City’s prospects of winning the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League between now and next month’s final.
The Premier League is virtually in the bag, with Guardiola’s players needing just three points from three games to win the title for a third successive season, while Manchester United — the only English club to previously achieve the treble in 1999 — stand between Man City and glory in the FA Cup final on June 3. If Manchester City reach Istanbul a week later needing to beat three-time European champions Inter to win their first Champions League, there will be an inevitability about their success.
So how good are Man City? Well, they will win a fifth Premier League title in six seasons within the next 10 days and are strong favourites to beat Man United in the FA Cup Final at Wembley. The Champions League has evaded their grasp, but this performance against Real was perhaps the most one-sided display by a team at this level since Guardiola’s Barcelona destroyed United in the 2011 Champions League final.
That 2011 final, by the way, was when Guardiola’s legendary Barca team was at its peak, with Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta putting United on what manager Sir Alex Ferguson called a “passing carousel.” Barca were so good that United couldn’t get the ball — and Real Madrid on Wednesday had a similar experience, with Man City dominating possession by enjoying 60% of it.
When Real Madrid winger Vinicius Junior attempted to race past Kyle Walker in the first half, it looked a no-contest with the Brazil international the favourite to win the foot-race. But Walker somehow turned the tide in his favour and beat Vinicius with his and strength. The Real star looked bereft, turning to Ancelotti as if to say, “What could I do?”
That was a theme that ran through the Real Madrid team. They were all helpless to repel the waves of Man City attacks and endless possession, as full-back Dani Carvajal said: “We played a rival who were better than us in this match — they pretty well overwhelmed us.”
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was perhaps the only Real player who came off the pitch having stood up to City, with the former Chelsea No. 1 producing a series of important saves, particularly from Erling Haaland, as Real attempted to weather the storm.
But this was City’s night, emphatically so, and it is going to be their season. It is merely a question of how many trophies they win.