Latest collapse shows Man City not ready to join Europe’s top table

Two of the true greats of the competition will go head-to-head for the biggest prize in club football. And the brutal truth is, City do not belong in that company.

Not yet. Not after yet another failure on this stage, when their spectacular riches were found wanting once more, when their lauded manager came up short in the heat of the battle.

Liverpool and Madrid, who share 19 European Cups between them, are reaching the latter stages of the Champions League on such a regular basis that it is almost on muscle memory.

It is three in five seasons for Jurgen Klopp. If Madrid triumph at the Stade de France on May 28, it will be the fifth time they have won the trophy in the last nine years.

City have reached just one final — last year, when beaten by Chelsea in Porto — since their Abu Dhabi funding transformed them into the dominant force in English football.

Pep Guardiola, meanwhile, has now gone 11 years since conquering Europe for the second time with his Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona, that despite his competitive advantage of managing at Bayern Munich and City in that time.

It is right that there be recriminations after this latest failure to deliver on this stage. Guardiola has, arguably, had the best team in Europe for the past five years, yet City continue to fail.

Madrid were out as the clock ticked into the 90th minute at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night. By the 91st minute, they had scored twice, levelled the tie and inflicted such an emotional blow to Guardiola’s team that the outcome from there was never in doubt.

By the fifth minute of extra time, Karim Benzema’s penalty fired the Spanish champions in front for the first time in the tie to set up a showdown with Liverpool.

City are nothing if not box-office entertainment in this competition. As a two-legged semi-final, it might be the greatest in Champions League history after last week’s epic 4-3 at the Etihad and then the stunning comeback in Madrid.

Previous City classics include the 4-3 against Tottenham in 2019 and the 6-6 aggregate against Monaco three years earlier.

The common theme is Guardiola ending up on the losing side. Those epics need to be turned into victories — just as Madrid have managed against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and now City this season alone.

Liverpool’s credentials as comeback kings in Europe are the stuff of legend. There is an innate belief within both of these clubs that magic is possible in this competition.

Guardiola’s players had lost control, and he was incapable of calming minds.

Conversely, City have become too accustomed to feeling sorry for themselves when fate conspires against them — and the speed with which they lost their heads in the face of the Madrid fightback should alarm their manager.

From the moment Rodrygo pulled one back after Riyad Mahrez’s opener in the 73rd minute, it was not a question of if, but when Madrid would score again, with the same player duly obliging almost from the kick-off.

Guardiola’s players had lost control, and he was incapable of calming minds.

So, it is Carlo Ancelotti who has the chance to win a fourth Champions League crown as a manager, to go with the two he won as a player. He, too, is royalty, as far as this competition is concerned.

As is Guardiola, but his team remain a long way off being considered in the same category — and he cannot escape the blame for that fact.

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