After a 3-0 win against Bayern Munich on Tuesday, Manchester City looks to be cruising toward the Champions League semi-finals for the third year in row.
Even if Pep Guardiola claimed it was a tortuous night watching from the sidelines at Etihad Stadium, it will take a remarkable fightback from Bayern to turn things around in next week’s quarter-finals second leg in Germany.
“It was not comfortable. Emotionally I’m destroyed,” the City manager said. “I have [aged] 10 more years today. It was so demanding [a] game. Now I have to relax.”
While Guardiola is trying to keep minds focused, this was a statement performance from the Premier League champions against one of the giants of European soccer.
Bayern had gone into the game with a 100 per cent record in this season’s competition, with eight straight wins, including victories against Inter Milan, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain – all under former coach Julian Nagelsmann.
But the visitors were blown away by City’s attacking power, with goals from Rodri, Bernardo Silva and Erling Haaland the difference on the night.
Bayern had chances, too. Leroy Sane forced three saves from Ederson early in the second half, including one when through on goal with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Yet by the time Haaland slid in to convert John Stones’s headed knockdown in the 76th minute, the semi-finals looked to be within reach, even with a second leg to come at Allianz Arena.
Both Guardiola and Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel pointed to the chances the German champions failed to convert. City, meanwhile, took the lead through a wonder goal from Rodri in the 27th and capitalized on a mistake from Dayot Upamecano for Bernardo to make it 2-0 in the 70th.
But it was still a performance of maturity that City has lacked when playing in European soccer’s elite competition in the past.
In previous years Guardiola’s team has buckled when under pressure on this stage.
Losses have come against underdogs Monaco, Tottenham and Lyon.
Guardiola, who won the Champions League twice as coach of Barcelona, has so far failed to deliver the trophy to City, despite dominating English soccer during his seven years at the club.
He has won four league titles, one FA Cup and four League Cups but has not been able to transfer that supremacy to Europe.
The closest he came was in 2021 when beaten in the final by a Chelsea team managed by Tuchel.
City was knocked out by Real Madrid in the semi-finals last season.
But even with the last four in sight once again, Guardiola, who coached Bayern for three years before taking over at City, is reluctant to look that far ahead.
“Incredible result but I know a little bit what can happen in Munich,” he said. “We have to do something new and a little bit more because we suffered too much with the quality they have.
“To knock out these teams you have to have two good games, not just one.”
In the other quarter-final first leg on Tuesday, Inter Milan won 2-0 at Benfica. Nicolo Barella and Romelu Lukaku scored second-half goals at the Stadium of Light to give Inter its first victory in more than a month and move the Italian team into good position to reach the semi-finals of the European competition for the first time in more than a decade.