Super Silva leads rout of champs Real

By, Kolkata
May 18, 2023 09:00 PM IST

From back to front, City made the Spanish giants look mediocre in the 4-0 win which fetched a Champions League final berth.

To the fading strains of ‘Hey Jude’, blue and white streamers dropped wispily like light rain. That was how Manchester City welcomed the global television audience on this inky Champions League semi-final night. One that ended with the stadium's giant screen flashing Istanbul.

Manchester City's Bernardo Silva, second left, celebrates scoring with teammates during the Champions League semi-final second leg match(AP)
Manchester City's Bernardo Silva, second left, celebrates scoring with teammates during the Champions League semi-final second leg match(AP)

After a dismantling, clinical and classy in equal measure, of defending champions Real Madrid who lost 0-4 on Wednesday and 1-5 on aggregate, that is where Manchester City are headed to play Inter Milan in the final. Pep Guardiola had said he didn’t like Jack Grealish’s comment last week that City would be “unstoppable” at home. Yet, as disclosed by Rio Ferdinand on social media, the City manager had sent a text to the former Manchester United defender that they would win.

Unbeaten in 26 home games in Europe, in 23 consecutive games in all competitions in 2022-23, winners of the Premier League five times in the last six seasons and with the chance to be the first English team to win the treble (league, cup and the continent) since Manchester United in 1998-99, it almost beggars belief that Manchester City are yet to win the Champions League. Monaco, Lyon, Tottenham Hotspur, Paris St-Germain, Chelsea had surprised them and in 2021-22, a Real Madrid heist had denied them at this stage.

For one year, they felt the pain, Guardiola told reporters afterward. It felt like they had swallowed poison, he said. Early goals from Bernardo Silva and two more in the final quarter from Manuel Akanji and Julian Alvarez assuaged the hurt.

By then, Guardiola had seen it coming. “After 10 or 15 minutes I had the feeling that all the pain we had in one season, one year, what happened last season, was there today,” he said.

For one minute after kick-off, Real Madrid had not got the ball. They knew it would happen but maybe not to the extent that it did. After 15 minutes, as per UEFA, Real had 13 passes, City 124. When Silva scored the first goal, Federico Valverde and Vinicius Jr had not completed a pass. By then, City had played 202 passes, Real 28.

It was because of Thibaut Courtois that Real, record 14-time champions of Europe, were only 0-2 down by the 37th minute. “We make happy our fans, all around the world watching us, they see a good team playing. This is the biggest compliment," said Guardiola.

Real Madrid always find a way, Inter Milan vice-president Javier Zanetti had said. Not on this night. Luka Modric was anonymous, Toni Kroos marginally less so because he produced a thunderbolt that crashed into the horizontal. You knew Karim Benzema was there only because of the plaster on his hand. And the way Kyle Walker caught up and dispossessed Vinicius Jr belied the fact that the Real Madrid star has a winner in a Champions League final, 23 goals and 21 assists in 53 club games this term and is 10 years younger than the right-side City centre-back.

“I don’t think we let them breathe,” Grealish told TV2, Norway.

From back to front, City were better. Ederson was alert to David Alaba’s free-kick in the second half and left charge to cut out Rodrygo’s attempt to find Benzema in the first. Walker, Ruben Dias and Akanji kept Real’s forwards in check; Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Guendogan showed industry and intuition to find space and deny Real, Phil Foden found Alvarez with a precise pass for the fourth goal and Erling Haaland kept defenders busy. But with their tireless running and continuous harassing of Real full-backs, Grealish and Silva would be the first among equals.

It was De Bruyne’s masterly free-kick that Akanji’s headed, the ball deflecting off Eder Militao into goal. The free-kick had been won by Grealish whose trickery often left Dani Carvajal chasing crooked shadows. So effective last week, Eduardo Camavinga lost nearly all the duels with Silva.

The first time Silva got the ball, he conceded a throw-in. The next time, he found De Bruyne but Kroos interjected. In the sixth minute, Silva wriggled through two players, fell, got up and fell again but the move came to nothing because at the end, he had pushed Kroos.

Without his gear, Silva could be an everyday man doing everyday things. Once thought to be too small for elite football, it is his ability to find space that has got Guardiola to use him in 52 games this term. He fetched up when De Bruyne played forward and scored with a rasping left-footer. For the second goal, he had moved inside to be able to head home a Militao deflection. “I am small but I am good with my head,” he said.

And even in the 85th minute with City in control, Silva was winning duels in the midfield. “In this type of game Bernardo is always there,” said Guardiola of the only player after Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski to have scored twice against Real in a Champions League semi-final.

Brought to end City’s wait for the Champions League, the competition has been an itch bothering Guardiola for seven years. Despite the threat of sanctions from the English FA, a remedy looks to have been found but on June 10 we will know for sure.


    Dhiman Sarkar is based in Kolkata with over two decades as a sports journalist. He writes mainly on football.

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