Typical City never truly died. It just turned itself into a solely European phenomenon. The Blues’ capacity for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory was never more acute, never more painful, than in their extra time capitulation to Real Madrid.
After playing the Spanish aristocrats off the park last week, but failing to drive home their advantage, they came up with what looked like the perfect Euro away performance by defending doggedly against a predictably furious Real assault and then breaking away to apparently seal victory with a Riyadh Mahrez stunner.
But oh no. The gods of football have still not done with tormenting City fans, and Rodrygo again resurrected Real from the dead, scoring twice as City’s stern defense collapsed in added time – ironically much of it due to Kyle Walker’s injury problems.
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And when Ruben Dias finally got a challenge slightly wrong, and took down Karim Benzema, the wily France striker picked himself up to book Real’s final place. City have lorded it over the Premier League but they seem to find new ways of exiting the Champions League.
Spectacular away goals rule exits to Monaco and Tottenham, that disastrous 30 minutes at Anfield, and then the no-shows against Lyon in the quarter-final and Chelsea in last year’s final – City seem to court mishap when they play in this competition.
The game was on a knife-edge right from the off, with Real Madrid channeling the energy and belief from their huge support to try to level things early. But the first duel was between the returning Kyle Walker and flying winger Vinicius Junior, who caused such damage in the first leg with the second goal that exposed Fernandinho’s shortcomings as a right back.
Guardiola had suggested before the game that it was a risk to play the England man after he had only trained once since injuring his ankle across the city at the Wanda Metropolitano three weeks earlier.
But the way he matched the Brazil winger pace for pace and snuffed the danger suggested it had been a good call. But the main threat was always going to be Benzema, who scored twice without really extending himself in the first leg.
Denying him space was always key, although easier said than done with a player whose movement is as cunning as his. And twice in the opening stages – a header and a shot – he got between center backs Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte only to see the effort fly over the bar.
Cheered on by their contingent of 1,800 fans – a number restricted by Real due to their ongoing stadium work – City soon settled into their rhythm, and forged the first real chance. Kevin De Bruyne had looked a little off the pace at times but he found a little lobbed pass to set Bernardo Silva free in the box, and keeper Thibaut Courtois beat his shot round the post.
Gabriel Jesus was working the Real center backs hard and showing some neat touches, and he almost played in De Bruyne, who was again curiously slow to react, the ball falling for Jesus to curl a shot just past the post.
The first leg had been pure football, both sides playing in a good spirit and the referee barely needed, but the return of the Brazilian hard man from injury changed all that. He incensed the City players with a scissors challenge on De Bruyne for which he somehow failed to get a yellow card.
In the resulting melee, Luka Modric barged into Aymeric Laporte and the City man went down as if he had been hurt by the inconsequential shove. This was a hangover from the antics we had seen at the Wanda Metropolitano against their more thuggish neighbors Atletico, but official Daniele Orsato was reluctant to show any cards.
Casemiro was soon at it again, blatantly hauling down Phil Foden, just too quickly and sprightly for him, and then feigning injury to again avoid a yellow card – that should have been red.
City had been reasonably comfortable in the first half and even created the better chances, but there was a storm gathering in the Real dressing room at half time, the kind of white whirlwind that hit Paris Saint Germain as they sat on their 2-0 aggregate lead in the last-16 tie.
Within seconds of the restart a Toni Kroos ball over the top caught the City defense napping and Dan Carvajal’s cross found Vinicius, for once free from Walker’s shackles, and he sliced his shot side with the goal at his mercy.
But City were being penned back and were thankful for the determined, level-headed defending of Dias and Laporte as they timed challenges to perfection as Vinicius and Benzema made thrusts deep into the box.
The white tornado blew itself out, and the Blues set about exposing the spaces left by Kroos and Modric in the middle. When Walker finally had to give up, after damaging his ankle once more, Guardiola also took off a below-par De Bruyne, sending on Oleks Zinchenko and Ilkay Gundogan.
The Germany midfielder has so often been Guardiola’s go-to man for European nights, and he showed exactly why with his first involvement. Collecting the ball in a tight spot in his own half, he freed Bernardo Silva, with the Bernabeu pitch wide open in front of him.
With options right and left, the clever little Portuguese bided his time and slipped it right, into the path of Mahrez. The Algeria star loves these moments, and he swept his shot past a startled Courtois to send the Blues fans into a frenzy.
It looked like City would storm to a comfortable victory as they repeatedly carved open a team that had to push forward, and sub Jack Grealish was agonizingly close to a killer second goal.
Those misses came back to haunt the Blues as the game moved into added time. Real looked spent, done, a beaten team. But when Benzema chased another lost cause and knocked it back, Rodrygo breathed life into the game by getting there before Ederson to level on the night.
It seemed too late, but then another hopeful cross was flung into the box and Rodrygo was there again, heading beyond Ederson to leave the Blues dumbfounded.
For the second week running, City had been better than the Spanish aristocrats, but still they would not die, as the game went to extra time. The body language did not look good – in the break before the added 30 minutes, Real’s team huddle looked energized and fizzing, while City simply looked blank.
That was confirmed as Real burst onto the attack again, and when Rodrygo crossed from the right and Benzema sprinted towards it, Dias dived in. He seemed to have got a toe to the ball but Mr Orsato thought otherwise and pointed to the spot.
Last week Benzema had coolly chipped in a Panenka-style penalty but this time he slotted it in the corner, sending Ederson the wrong way.
City fought through their numbness and staged a valiant effort to retrieve the tie – and Fernandinho almost did as he stretched out and almost turned Foden’s flick in at the far post.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.