Manchester City thrashed Borussia Dortmund, after beating Borussia Dortmund on their first leg at home
Manchester City beat Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in Germany to progress to the Champions League semi-finals
Different year, different stuff?
Maybe Kevin De Bruyne’s withering putdown after the Lyon defeat – different year, same stuff – can now be put to bed.
And if nothing else comes from Manchester City’s qualification for the Champions League semi-finals after their 2-1 comeback victory over Borussia Dortmund, protecting a 2-1 lead against one of the best teams in Europe should put to bed the idea that they can’t protect an eight-point lead from Manchester United.
But enough about that already, because this win means a lot more to City in the context of their season and their history.
Pep Guardiola is back in a Champions League semi-final, his eighth in 12 years after seven consecutive appearances were followed up by four failings at the Etihad
It is appearance No.2 there for the club and the first time since under Manuel Pellegrini in 2016 when the semi-final submission to Real Madrid was so meek that it was publicly criticised by the chairman despite it being the best they had ever gone (and would go until now).
What made this victory so satisfying is that it finally showed the squad as a collective taking the responsibility, coping with the pressure, and getting the result.
City should have won this tie because they are a better team than Dortmund and came into it on the back of 27 wins in their last 29 games, with Saturday’s defeat to Leeds only disappointing in the sense that it confirmed some places on the bench for the second leg.
But on top of the overnight fireworks welcome by some fans outside the City hotel that amused the Blues – even if not best-timed on a day where Dortmund were marking a solemn anniversary – the German side had already shown their danger in the first leg and are undefeated at Signal Iduna Park in this competition since March 2019.
Jude Bellingham’s opening goal inside 15 minutes after a simple ball over the top had split John Stones and Ruben Dias had City fans fearing the worst, and when Kevin De Bruyne rattled the bar from inside the box 10 minutes later more began wondering if it was not to be again this year.
With their captain putting that near-miss behind him though, Guardiola’s side began to regularly threaten as the rest of the first half progressed. Marwin Hitz made a crucial stop to deny Riyad Mahrez after he had been acrobatically set up by Phil Foden. The yellow shirts retreated further and further back as City’s pincer movement squeezed and squeezed.
City’s plugging brought rewards shortly after the break when Emre Can used his arm to divert Foden’s cross away from the penalty area.
After a lengthy VAR check and another incorrect call from Peter Walton on BT Sport, the penalty was given and Mahrez stepped up and slapped it home with the confidence of a man who knows he can now take the next thousand spot-kicks given the standard of his teammates.
Immediately and from nowhere, Dortmund threatened again with star centre-back Ruben Dias needed to pull out a trademark block to keep the advantage in City’s favour.
Yet Guardiola did not make any subs, trusting those on the pitch to keep their nerves and increase their control of the game.
The second goal, taking the score to 4-2 on aggregate and meaning Dortmund needed three goals to go through, came from fearless wonderkid Foden, following up on his excellent performance in the first leg by smacking a shot in off the near post from a short corner.
The celebrations on the touchline as the Stockport sensation and his teammates ran to Guardiola said a lot: with 15 minutes to go, surely they were there? The relief and elation at full-time after seeing out the game said even more.
City will be pleased that Paris Saint-Germain will be their semi-final opponents rather than dethroned champions Bayern Munich. Mauricio Pochettino may throw up some of the horrors from Tottenham but there are enough psychological pressures in the competition without the Blues having to take on the German giants.
PSG are in fact one of the few clubs City have happy quarter-final memories of, having beaten them over two legs in 2016 with a team that included Eliaquim Mangala.
‘Tis the season for breaking new ground too.
On top of a club and English record 21-match winning streak in all competitions between December and March, add Signal Iduna Park to a list of stadiums including Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford, Anfield, The Emirates, and Goodison (twice) where the Blues have prospered this year. It is now a staggering 16 straight wins on the road in all competitions, stretching their English record ever further.
That is impressive on its own, but also bodes well for the rest of their campaign if a team is clearly unfazed by having to go to imposing grounds and not just defend a result but win anywhere.
At the heart of it has been an improved defence too.
Despite the goal conceded here it is now 47 games and counting since they conceded twice in 10 minutes – a painful hallmark of previous defeats, many of them in the Champions League. It is no coincidence that the only quarter-final City have progressed from is the one where they let in less than three goals across the two legs.
Erling Haaland maybe have been involved for Jude Bellingham’s goal but was otherwise starved of service, the summer transfer target joining a long list including Timo Werner, Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and Jamie Vardy of prolific strikers that have been strangled by the Blues on their own turf.
City will hope that this victory exorcises the nightmares of Monaco, Liverpool, Tottenham, and Lyon.
But this is not a team interested in the past, instead focusing on making history. After this victory, they are now a mere 10 games away from an unprecedented Quadruple.
Now can nobody mention the Leeds defeat ever again?