Pep Guardiola said his “special” Manchester City stars had proved a point after their 4-0 rout of Real Madrid booked a Champions League final showdown with Inter Milan.
Bernardo Silva scored City’s first two goals at the Etihad Stadium before Manuel Akanji and Julian Alvarez netted to cap a swaggering display in the semi-final second leg.
It was a cathartic victory for Guardiola’s men after they were beaten by Real in last season’s semi-finals.
On that occasion, City conceded two late goals before losing in extra-time, leading to claims Guardiola’s players lacked character.
The City boss believes this ruthless demolition of holders Real should silence any remaining doubters.
“I had the feeling we had one year of pain in our stomach. What happened last season, today went out,” he said.
“It was so painful last season, when people said these players lacked character and in one year we’ve shown again how special this group of players is.
“I say congratulations to all our organisation, our chairman, our owner, until the last person because they work with a real purpose and we are there!”
City’s 5-1 aggregate victory kept the Premier League leaders on course for a remarkable season.
They can win the title with a victory against Chelsea on Sunday, face Manchester United in the FA Cup final on June 3 and head to Istanbul to play Inter as they bid to lift the Champions League for the first time.
“When you reach the Champions League final, you have to celebrate but unfortunately we won’t have time because on Sunday we have the chance to win the Premier League,” Guardiola said.
“A final against an Italian team is not the best gift, honestly. They are competitive. This victory will get a lot of compliments but we have time to prepare mentally.”
Asked if City’s display was one of their best during his seven-year reign, Guardiola added: “Yes definitely. We just had to win one game, be ourselves.
“Madrid, what a team, but we wanted to win. What happened last season happened. We didn’t have the luck.
“But today we had the feeling that the people were ready. The players made a lot of jokes, I didn’t feel tension and I had the feeling we were ready to give this performance.”
‘A beautiful night’
Silva said he was motivated to make amends for an underwhelming display in the 1-1 draw against Real in the first leg.
He fooled Real keeper Thibaut Courtois with a sublime near-post finish to put City ahead in the 23rd minute and netted their second with a header eight minutes before half-time.
“My performance in the first game in Madrid was not the one I wanted and I wanted to compensate that,” he said.
“Today I had to do better for my team-mates and the fans and that is what I tried to do. I am small but good with my head! It is a beautiful night for us.”
Real defender Dani Carvajal admitted his side had no answers to City’s relentless pressure.
“We played a rival who were better than us in this match. They pretty well overwhelmed us,” he said.
“We can recognise that City were better. We were lacking something. It wasn’t attitude we were lacking but we allowed ourselves to be pressed back too much.
“We knew that City were very strong at home but after the first leg we were left with the feeling that we could be better than this here, better on the ball.”
With Barcelona winning the Spanish title this term, Real face an uncertain future that is likely to see boss Carlo Ancelotti depart.
But Carvajal said: “We are Madrid, we’ll come back stronger and we’ll work really hard next season to be back at this stage of the tournament.”
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