Adding yet another Premier League trophy and FA Cup crown to his distinguished CV in 2022-23, Guardiola’s list of domestic achievements at the Etihad is endless, but the coveted continental honour has consistently eluded him since he left the comfort of Camp Nou behind.
Up until the 2020-21 campaign, Guardiola had never taken Man City beyond the quarter-finals of Europe’s premier competition, and as fans slowly filtered back into the stadiums in the wake of untold COVID-19-related disruption, the perennial Premier League winners have come close, but no cigar.
Leaving the Estadio do Dragao with their tails tucked between their legs in 2021 thanks to Kai Havertz’s solitary strike for Chelsea, Man City fell victim to the Real Madrid juggernaut in the 2021-22 semi-finals, but revenge was a dish best served with a side of four unanswered goals during their reunion at the same stage this time around.
Following two moments of individual brilliance from Vinicius Junior and Kevin qDe Bruyne in a circumspect first leg, many were careful not to write Carlo Ancelotti’s charges off completely ahead of their reunion in Manchester. After all, Los Blancos have proven the doubters wrong time and time again when European silverware is the prize.
However, the 53,000-strong crowd at the Etihad may have witnessed the passing of the continental torch, as Man City tore the reigning champions to shreds with goals from Bernardo Silva (2), Manuel Akanji and Julian Alvarez, making them the firm favourites to finally end their Champions League hoodoo in Turkey.
Since teaching their La Liga adversaries a footballing lesson, Man City successfully defended their Premier League title with 89 points to stave off the threat of Arsenal – whose challenge was a floundering one at best late on – before winning just their second FA Cup under Guardiola versus bitter rivals Manchester United.
Amid incessant speculation surrounding his future, Man City’s end-of-season specialist Ilkay qGundogansparkled in the Wembley sunshine – netting a beautiful opener within just 12 seconds, the fastest goal ever scored in an FA Cup final – before letting fly with another volley in the second half to render Bruno Fernandes’s penalty inconsequential and put Man City on the brink of a terrific treble of trophies.
For all of their Etihad excellence this term, Man City’s triumph at Wembley marked just their third win from their last seven games away from their headquarters, with Guardiola’s side failing to win either of their last two European road matches against Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, but few Citizens supporters will be overly concerned with recent failures on Brighton & Hove Albion and Brentford’s territory.
Scoring at least once in each of their last seven Champions League affairs, Man City could become the fourth team from England to lift the Champions League trophy aloft in the tournament’s current format. Only one other nation also boasts three previous victors in the competition, and they will be sending a crop of resilient representatives indeed.
Inter’s attempts to thwart Napoli’s Serie A title mission proved futile, but while the pre-match discussions may be centred on Man City’s bid for a domestic and continental treble, a similar haul of success is on the line for Simone Inzaghi’s knockout gurus.
Four months on from trouncing city rivals Milan 3-0 in the 2022-23 Supercoppa Italiana, Inter posted an identical triumph over their Rossoneri foes in the final four of the Champions League – albeit over 180 minutes rather than 90 this time around – to return to Europe’s grandest stage in some style.