City finally crack the Champions League code - GulfToday

City finally crack the Champions League code

Champions League

Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez (right) scores his side’s second goal against Paris Saint-Germain during their Champions League semi-final second leg match on Tuesday. Associated Press

Manchester City finally cracked the Champions League code with an impressive 2-0 win over Paris Saint Germain on Tuesday, the 4-1 aggregate triumph earning them a first ever spot in the final of Europe’s elite club competition.

After stumbling in the latter stages of the Champions League in his four previous campaigns with the club, Guardiola dropped his usual focus on the tasks ahead to reflect on banishing the one major question mark over his stewardship of the club.

“To reach the final of this competition is so difficult,” he told reporters.

“It is the toughest one, the quality of the opponent and the composure you have to have to suffer the toughest moments.”

Those moments had proved too tough for City in each of the past four seasons.

Last season’s 3-1 quarter-final loss to a very beatable Olympique Lyonnaise followed defeats to Tottenham, Liverpool and Monaco in the Champions League knockout stages.

“It remained in my head for weeks and it was painful, I cannot deny,” Guardiola said recently.

Win one more game on May 29 and Guardiola will be among a select band of just three other managers -- Bob Paisley, Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane -- to win the European Cup three times.

With already 25 major trophies to his name in just 12 seasons in charge of Barca, Bayern and City, the 50-year-old can silence any lasting doubters and cement his status as one of the greatest coaches of all-time with victory in Istanbul.

A first Champions League final for City, against Real Madrid or Chelsea in Istanbul, is the culmination of the club’s rise since an Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008 transformed their fortunes.

In the coming days, they will seal a fifth Premier League title in the past 10 years.

Once dubbed the “noisy neighbours” by legendary former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, City are now not just the dominant force in Manchester but also in English football.

By the end of the month, the mix of Emirati wealth and Guardiola’s coaching may have also conquered Europe.

“Of course we invest a lot of money since Sheikh Mansour took over, but it is not just this,” said Guardiola. “It is a lot of incredible things behind the scenes.

“Reaching the final of the Champions League, helps us realise in the bigger picture what we have done in the last four years. What we have done these four years is incredible.”

Many had wondered whether the Spaniard’s obsession with the competition had led him to overthink games or transmitted nerves to his players, but this season was different.

City have not sneaked into the final or battled through against the odds, they have marched to Istanbul by winning every knockout game -- home and away. Indeed, they are unbeaten throughout their entire Champions League campaign this season, winning 11 games and drawing just once.

Throughout the Guardiola years, City have produced some glorious attacking football but also, especially in Europe, some shaky defensive displays.

This year, though, they have combined the flair in the final third with a rock solid defence that has conceded just four goals in the Champions League so far.

The addition of Ruben Dias, the Portugal central defender signed from Benfica, has proven to be a masterstroke.

The arrival of the 23-year-old has transformed City in the same way that Virgil van Dijk gave Liverpool the solidity they were lacking before their Champions League triumph two years ago.

Teenager Phil Foden, cautiously introduced into the side by Guardiola, has come of age during this campaign, effectively replacing Raheem Sterling in the attack.

Riyad Mahrez, who scored both goals on Tuesday, has flourished, while Ilkay Gundogan has come out of his shell to become an all-round midfielder.

City’s exits in Europe have all featured moments when they have let the game get away from them -- losing their cool, their shape and their focus.

But this season there has been a solidity and maturity that is so vital at the highest level and both in Paris and at home, City were firmly in control.

“In big occasions there are going to be nerves. We have to control that. You put the pressure on yourself,” said right-back Kyle Walker, reflecting on the earlier exits.

“You go back to Anfield and throwing it away in the first leg. The second year we are at Tottenham and lost in the first leg before chasing it here.

“Last year, it was different, over one leg - a proper cup game. To finally get the victory over there and then come here and win is full credit to this squad.”


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