For so long City had seemed determined to play Real at their own game. Even Ancelotti, who watches games as impassively as he would a waiter pouring his favorite wine, was angered by Ederson’s growing age. to clarify his lines.
No one, however, was as versed in time-consuming antics as Laporte. No sooner had Modric pricked him lightly in the chest than the Frenchman rolled over like a redwood, writhing with a comedian flourish that even Diego Simeone would have admired.
Dressed in black from head to toe, Guardiola even looked like Simeone, the figure of which he has always been the perfect antithesis. If City could absorb the hard knocks they received against Atletico de Simeone in the quarter-finals, they would surely resist Real’s worst instincts to reach a second successive final. The era of romanticism was over.
Guardiola, who needed a European Cup to end his otherwise conquering reign at the Etihad, shunned any notion of aesthetic purity. For 74 minutes they harassed and rocked Real, with Benzema a pale imitation of his usual mortal self. Then, with a devastating break down the right, Mahrez surged. Justification? In the end, it was just a prelude to the great collapse engineered by Rodrygo.
“Another magical night,” said one of the expansive canopies Real Madrid ultras so love to deploy, Benzema and Modric slipping from the knee past them at the final whistle. Except for City, and Guardiola in particular, there was no air of enchantment. There was only the longest and most macabre night of the soul.