Pep Guardiola is football’s great perfectionist but even he would struggle to find fault with the night of sheer mastery produced by Manchester City to obliterate holders Real Madrid to reach the Champions League final.
Guardiola did, of course, spot the odd flaw as he twice fell dramatically to his knees on the turf in his technical area in the second half, head clutched in hands when City conceded possession cheaply.
If you wanted to find fault within City’s spectacular 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid, that might just have been the extent it. This was very, very special.
If anyone had any doubts about the greatness of the side Guardiola has assembled, they might have been erased by an other-worldly display, especially in a first half during which Real were pretty much reduced to the level of a lower league side clinging on in a cup tie.
And that greatness can be officially conferred on both team and manager if they successfully emulate the perfect Treble won by Manchester United in 1999 – winning the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup.
City will be overwhelming favourites to beat Inter Milan in the Champions League final in Istanbul on 10 June. They face United in the FA Cup final at Wembley a week earlier and a fifth Premier League in six years will be sealed with victory at home to Chelsea on Sunday.
Indeed, it would now be more of a surprise if they failed to win the Treble than if they did, although United’s desire to keep a piece of history for themselves will provide fuel and adrenalin for Erik ten Hag’s team at Wembley.
This, in many ways, was a defining night and performance for a City side who have found various ways to exit the Champions League under Guardiola, the tournament increasingly being regarded, fairly or otherwise, as the prism through which the Catalan’s time in charge will be viewed.
There was a brutal beauty about the manner in which Real were simply dismantled, greats such as Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema seemingly in a daze in the moments after City took a two-goal lead, the famously unflappable coach Carlo Ancelotti looking defeated and at a loss as he was locked in conversation with Vinicius Junior on the touchline.
Guardiola admitted the pain of the semi-final loss to Real at this stage last season provided inspiration for this win, City almost in the final before conceding two stoppage time goals at the Bernabeu before eventually going out.
And, of course, there was the Champions League final loss to Chelsea in 2021, when Guardiola’s surprise team selection was regarded as large contributory factor to events unfolding in Porto.
No such problems here.
City played without any shred of doubt and with the conviction of a team on a march towards destiny, Guardiola saying: “I had a feeling in these last days we had the right mix of calm and tension. You could smell the team was ready to perform at this level.”
Real’s reputation as the great escapologists of the Champions League, a streetwise and hugely talented team who have perfected fashioning victory from the jaws of defeat, can inflict suspicion and nerves on opponents but they did not even have the chance to do it here.
Those first 45 minutes must be as good as anything seen in this Etihad Stadium.
It passed by in a flash and in a frenzy of pace, pressing intensity, menace and sheer quality that yielded two goals from Bernardo Silva and could have brought more, Real keeper Thibaut Courtois twice saving miraculously from Erling Haaland headers.
Real had more of the ball and restored a measure of calm for periods in the second half but further goals, Manuel Akanji’s header deflecting in off Eder Militao and substitute Julian Alvarez tucking away Phil Foden’s pass, delivered a scoreline that reflected City’s superiority.
City will be guarded against complacency against Inter in Istanbul but they will be overwhelming favourites. If their performance in Turkey rises anywhere near these heights there will only be one winner.
The Champions League has been the Holy Grail for Manchester City, the perceived affirmation of their status as a European football superpower deserving of a place at the highest table.
It was why Guardiola was brought to City. He was the management end game after his allies Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, both formerly of Barcelona, preceded him at the club. It was almost as if they were getting the Etihad house ready for Guardiola to move in.
It is why the final in Istanbul will mean so much to City and Guardiola – and all logic suggests they will never have a better chance to finally lift the great silver trophy given their current form, which has brought a 23-match unbeaten run and the prospect of the greatest season in the club’s history.
In effect, Guardiola and his players stand three matches from immortality, joining Manchester United as the only English clubs to achieve this particular Treble.
On a magical night of football at an overjoyed Etihad Stadium, it is hard to see anyone stopping them.