The plaudits rolled out for Manchester City as they masterfully made their way into the Champions League final, with Jack Grealish describing the team as “unstoppable and unbelievable.”
Add unforgettable, too.
The 4-0 rout of holders Real Madrid on Wednesday night in their semifinal second leg — a win that sealed a 5-1 aggregate success — was one of the club’s greatest triumphs.
Had there been a trophy at stake, it would arguably have topped everything beforehand.
But this will still be a defining moment in City’s history, showing they deserve to be ranked alongside the world’s best club sides past and present.
Doubt has often been cast by their inability to win the Champions League, but they will be strong favorites to rectify that when they face Inter Milan in Istanbul on June 10.
To reach this stage they have scored 14 goals in their last three home ties against RB Leipzig, Bayern Munich and Real.
In a performance that hinted at perfection, Bernardo Silva scored twice and Manuel Akanji and Julian Alvarez also netted to inflict Real’s joint-heaviest Champions League defeat since Liverpool beat them 4-0 at Anfield in 2009.
Now City have the chance to banish the memory of their 2021 final loss to Chelsea.
“To put in the performance that we all did, individually and collectively, was magic,” said Bernardo.
“It was a special night for us and we’re very emotional to have this opportunity again. Hopefully, this year we can change the outcome of what happened two years ago.”
Bernardo said City were clinical as they overcame Real, while Grealish added: “I didn’t think we let them breathe.”
City, in contrast, were breathless on the ball and fearless in their approach.
Boss Pep Guardiola said: “These guys have done it for many years and they got the reward they deserve. When the draw was Real Madrid, I said I want it, I want it. I’m very pleased for the organization, the chairman, owner and players.
“We made our fans happy all around the world, they saw a good team playing,” he added. “This is the biggest compliment. Now we have to lift the trophies, but we’ve had so much joy and fun with our people this season.”
The greatest sports teams are usually driven, dynamic and entertainers. They purr when they play, and have an arrogance and ambition that pushes them to achieve and excel.
That is where City are at the moment — they seek history in style and a rightful place among footballing royalty.
This weekend they could clinch a fifth Premier League title in six seasons — a third in as many years — and they face Manchester United in the FA Cup final on June 3.
Guardiola said the team can now “visualize” the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble — a feat achieved by neighbors United in 1999.
“We are three games away, one in each competition — we can do it,” he said.
With UEFA and Premier League investigations into alleged breaches of Financial Fair Play rules — something the club have robustly denied — City have had to defy criticism over their spending and fight hard to earn compliments ever since the Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008.
Guardiola has often demanded respect for his side’s achievements, and his hunger for more honors and records has been evident by his passion-fueled touchline displays.
His Barcelona team, which lifted the European title in 2009 and 2011, rank high among the game’s finest club sides, and this was his 100th Champions League victory, surpassing Real boss Carlo Ancelotti’s record as the quickest to do so, with 20 games to spare.
Grealish described his boss a “genius,” while City defender Ruben Dias said: “He’s won everything, but it’s like he hasn’t won anything. That hunger, every new season he starts all over again. That’s his biggest quality.”
It is a trait now embedded in his team as they have shown in overturning Arsenal’s eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League.
Ancelotti admitted City were “superior,” and the dominant display extinguished the air of invincibility that often surrounds the 14-time champions in this competition.
There was to be no comeback as there was last season when two late Rodrygo goals wiped out a two-goal deficit, sent the tie into extra-time and set the scene for Karim Benzema’s match-winning penalty to make it 6-5 on aggregate.
This was a very different City, mentally and tactically — aggressive and astute in attack and no longer naive in defense.
Collectively, they were a class apart and the outcome would have been more damaging had visiting keeper Thibaut Courtois’ brilliance not denied 52-goal Erling Haaland.
Toni Kroos did hit the bar at the other end with a 20-yard strike and David Alaba saw a free-kick tipped over by Ederson, but their forward threat of Benzema, Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo was subdued.
“When Real Madrid lose, everything becomes very big,” said Luka Modric. “There’s a lot of analysis and criticism. You have to live with that. Criticism is not going to sink us. End of an era? We will see.”
Yet it looked that way for some, as Real will have to reset following a campaign in which they have won only the Copa del Rey.
At 37, Croatia playmaker Modric looked a veteran, unable to exert any influence on the game.
The 76 percent pass completion rate — when he could actually get on the ball — was his lowest tally as a starter since a La Liga win over Eibar in June 2020 when he had 1 percent less.
Where City were pass masters, Real’s much-vaunted midfield, including Kroos, were past masters.
“The last time I heard about the end of the cycle for this team was in 2019 — and it’s been a while,” said the 33-year-old Kroos.
It is no surprise that Borussia Dortmund’s 19-year-old England international Jude Bellingham is being pursued by Real.
But Frenchman Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni also have to be given a platform to establish themselves as the future of the team’s aging midfield.
Deployed at left-back again, with Antonio Rudiger surprisingly on the bench, Camavinga was given a torrid time by Bernardo, when Real badly needed to quell the energy of the Portuguese star alongside Grealish and Kevin De Bruyne.
When City asked questions of them, Real had no answers.
This was Ancelotti’s 191st Champions League game as a manager, surpassing the record he held with Sir Alex Ferguson.
The 63-year-old, who has won the trophy four times, is expected to see out his contract, which ends next season, despite links to the Brazil job.
Kroos said the players had faith in the Italian, as he added: “Clearly yes, who doesn’t?
“You can’t win the Champions League every year. We didn’t deserve to reach the final this time. We’ll be back.”