In a match that will go down in history, Manchester City found themselves out of Europe as they beat Tottenham Hotspur 4-3 at the Etihad, losing on away goals.
As sporting events go, this had it all. Early action, unbelievable atmosphere, palpable tension, moments of madness, and late drama. But none of that will matter. City may well have played some of their best football of their season, yet they also made mistakes that cost them one of the best nights in their history.
Here’s what we learned from a truly heartbreaking night…
Welcome to Ctrl+Z Football
Simply put, there has never been a moment like it.
For this writer, I had nearly cleaved my vocal chords in two as I found myself screaming without end. Delirious, I turned to my father, a lifelong blue, and hoisted him into the air as we lost all control, both of us beyond words.
And then it was all gone. I’ve spoken to a few non-blue friends in the aftermath. Some likened it to looking across to the linesman only to see his flag raised high . One even compared it to that fateful day in 2012, when United fans had to hear of their precious title being wrenched from their grasp in the very last seconds.
But again, there has simply never been a moment like last night’s VAR offside check. In what many have dubbed the ‘anti-93:20’, City seemed to have pulled off the impossible right at the death once again, driving us all to the edge only to send us into ecstasy. Yet with the revisionist nature of VAR, it feels like we might never have those moments ever again.
It might surprise some, but I remain fully in favour of the Video Assistant Referee. When fully formed, its addition will benefit us all when it allows the game to keep up with our digital age.
Make no mistake though, this is a new era. Emotions and action are now prey to the ‘Undo’ button of Ctrl+Z. And even if we’re in favour of VAR, its presence will make us question – is this the game we fell in love with?
KDB is genuinely KDBack
It might hurt to relive any amount of last night’s madness, but we can’t allow ourselves to forget Kevin De Bruyne’s performance. Not for a second.
Whilst we won’t be able to enjoy the rewards, there is no denying that the Belgian Da Vinci is well and truly operating at his game-changing best. Whether he was coming deep to start off attacking moves or driving through about five men to set up three of our four goals, Kevin was our indisputable best player for me. I wouldn’t be surprised if he changed his name to Keith Flint, because the man is our one and only firestarter.
Some could mock us for sounding spoiled when we are still in contention for a domestic treble, but Kevin’s presence was the epiphany to show how much better he makes the team. Think back over the last two weeks. Whether in the FA Cup semi-final, a critical away game in the Premier League or on the biggest of European nights, he has stepped up and been counted as a man for the occasion.
When he plays in sky blue, we don’t just have another gear – we have a whole different engine.How on earth have we been playing without him?
Raheem the Dream…
And there is the immediate answer.
With Kevin De Bruyne out for so much of the season, City have needed to turn to new players to do the business, to perform when the pressure is highest. Without a shadow of a doubt, Raheem Sterling is that man.
The tide needed to be turned when City walked out onto the Etihad pitch last night. The away leg had faltered and trailing a goal behind in the tie, meaning it was vital that the Blues secured an early goal to pile the pressure on Spurs. So who else but Sterling to take the ball and curl it into the far corner, raising the roof inside four minutes?
Yet little could anyone on this planet know that the score would be 2-2 inside 15 minutes of play, though. With Son Heung-Min stunning City with two goals in two minutes and Bernardo Silva sneaking one back via Danny Rose’s deflection, there was a real danger that the game could descend into madness (beyond that which it did). But there was Raheem again, pouncing on a sumptiously typical De Bruyne ball to establish order and disuade a repeat of Liverpool-esque disintegration.
His almost historic hat-trick will remain painfully out of reach, like waking up and trying to remember the reveries of the night before. But with there can be no disputing that Raheem really is the Dream. It just happens to be a painful one, this time.
The Etihad Awakens
If you were in the stadium last night, I salute you. The atmosphere was unlike anything else and without a doubt, it kept City surging on throughout one of the most insane games to ever grace the Etihad.
Pep called us out in his press conference, eager to see if we really wanted it. Given our less-than-friendly history with UEFA and the Champions League, it could have been all too easy to boo the anthem and sit back, waiting for the players to pull us to our feet in hopes we’d be given the reason to get behind them.
Instead, we showed our true colours. We City fans get a lot of stick, particularly when it comes down to the subject of ‘atmosphere’. Sure, we might be smaller in number than historic fanbases like Liverpool or United, but that doesn’t make our support any less real. To every single fan that sang and screamed and cried their blue hearts out last night, you showed everyone from talkSport to Kirsty Gallacher what it means to be City.
All I can say is Pep, if you’re reading this, know that we’ll be there when you need us. We might have empty seats at home, but we’ve got a fanbase that fights until the end just as much as the team.
Hell Hath No Fury Like a City Scorned
Fighting until the end is exactly what we have to do now. We have to all pick ourselves up, players and fans alike, and turn our devastation into defiance. Come Saturday, Spurs will not know what hit them.
Whatever the away goals rule has to do with it, we won the game last night. We made some of the daftest mistakes possible, yet we still won. Why? Because we wanted to.
Whilst we were all losing our collective minds, it went unnoticed that Liverpool progressed into the Champions League semi-finals, where they will play a two-legged tie against Lionel Messi and Barcelona. They will have to give everything to progress.
Though I’m far from glad that we’re out of Europe, I am encouraged by the fact that the team now has two less games to play. We have five games to win the Premier League. Should we make it past Spurs and United intact, then we have a welcome rest inbetween our final three games against Burnley, Leicester and Brighton.
Bring on the weekend. Bring on the Premier League. Bring on the historic domestic treble. CTID.
You can follow the author on Twitter here: @GoldingBen
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