Manchester City finally broke their Champions League quarter-final curse under Pep Guardiola as they won 2-1 in Germany to see off a spirited Borussia Dortmund 4-2 on aggregate and book a semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain.
City were forced to come from behind after a curled finish from 17-year-old English sensation Jude Bellingham put Dortmund in front on away goals in the tie, but got the job done in the second half thanks to a penalty from Riyad Mahrez and a quick-thinking finish from the increasingly influential Phil Foden.
For Guardiola it sets up a first Champions League semi-final in his tenure with City as the Spaniard eyes the chance to win the competition for the first time since the second of his triumphs with Barcelona back in 2011.
8 – Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has reached his eighth UEFA Champions League semi-final, now the joint-most in the history of the competition, alongside José Mourinho. Master. #UCL pic.twitter.com/BtUwe1YfYn
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 14, 2021
For all their domestic brilliance since Guardiola took the helm, the Champions League is still seen as the competition City and their Spanish manager crave most desperately – a yearning which has only intensified after successive quarter-final exits through the varying degrees of torture in the past three seasons.
This was another tie City almost contrived to let slip away, leaving it late in Manchester in the first leg and surviving a scare in Germany against a Dortmund team tinged with youthful exuberance which at one stage threatened to embarrass the expensively-assembled visitors.
Ultimately it was a game illuminated by the brilliance of young Englishmen on both sides, as 17-year-old Dortmund starlet Jude Bellingham gave the hosts hope before City’s 20-year-old maestro Foden helped snuff it out.
It ended with a 4-2 aggregate scoreline for Pep’s City slickers, who were made to work far harder for their passage against the Bundesliga strugglers than many had foretold.
With his team selection, Guardiola had falllen back on a favorite gambit by beginning without a recognized center forward as Gabriel Jesus started on the bench and Sergio Aguero remained at home after not being fit enough to make the trip to Germany. It was, however, a familiar enough line-up to allay fears from some fans that Guardiola might go into the tinkering mode which has been accused of causing City’s downfall under the Spaniard in recent years.
Early on at the Westfalenstadion, City settled into a familiar passing pattern although Mahmoud Dahoud did try his luck for the hosts when a misplaced pass handed him a free crack from distance, driving straight into the arms of a grateful Ederson.
After that warning sign it was Dortmund who struck first. Erling Haaland – the man coveted across the continent, including in the sky-blue half of Manchester – got in behind John Stones to cut the ball back invitingly, and while City blocked the first effort the ball fell kindly to Bellingham. The youngster took full advantage by curling a sumptuous right-footed strike which Ederson could only help on its way into the net with his fingertips.
It was delight for the Englishman after he had seen what looked like a clear goal harshly ruled out in the first leg at the Etihad, and this time he celebrated wildly with Haaland as Dortmund seized the ascendency in the tie. The goal also made Bellingham England’s youngest ever scorer in the Champions League and the competition’s second most youthful scorer in a knockout stage game.
Jude Bellingham is the youngest Englishman to ever score a goal in the UEFA Champions League…
Built different. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/RKLUq0QJ4h
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 14, 2021
17y 289d – Jude Bellingham is the second-youngest player to score in a UEFA Champions League knockout game, after Bojan for Barcelona against Schalke in April 2008 (17y 217d). Stage. pic.twitter.com/r2JuIUhcLQ
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 14, 2021
A shell-shocked City almost found themselves further adrift when Manuel Akanji tested Ederson with a header when unmarked at a corner soon afterwards.
City, though, sparked into life around the 25-minute mark when Kevin De Bruyne rattled the crossbar after forcing his way into the box, with the visitors half-heartedly looking for a penalty when Bernardo Silva was bundled over attempting to latch onto the rebound.
Birmingham City alumnus Bellingham – who opted for a move to the Bundesliga before the start of the season, despite the likes of Manchester United circling – then proved his brilliance at the other end of the pitch as he blocked a close-range effort by Riyad Mahrez.
Oleksandr Zinchenko – preferred to Joao Cancelo at left back – came close but could only head straight in the arms of Dortmund ‘keeper Marwin Hitz, while Bellingham was booked for hauling down fellow England starlet Foden, continuing the Dortmund midfielder’s all-action first-half showing.
At the interval Guardiola was staring at yet another Champions League last eight exit but opted not to press the trigger and sent out the same personnel to get his team back into the tie. The Spaniard’s tactical mettle was being tested against a relative rookie across from him in the dugout in the form of 38-year-old Dortmund boss Edin Terzic – the former assistant who only took over as caretaker from the sacked Lucien Favre in December.
Bellingham was among those firing up the Dortmund ranks before the second half got underway, and Haaland headed the ball out from a City corner early on, further proof that this team tinged with young talent would be willing to put in a shift to hold onto their slender advantage. Hitz then tipped over from a Zinchenko cross as City pressed and probed at the Dortmund backline.
City’s patience was rewarded when Emre Can made a clumsy attempt to clear a Foden cross, contorting himself to head the ball onto his own arm. Spanish referee Carlos del Cerro Grande pointed to the spot and VAR backed up the decision, before Mahrez drilled past Hitz for his first Champions League goal of the season as City returned to the driving seat.
Did Man City deserve a penalty? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/E9JYrNsa4a
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 14, 2021
City built momentum but were reminded Dortmund weren’t done when they had to scramble clear when the ball fell to Dahoud in the box. Mats Hummels then headed agonizingly over the bar from a Marco Reus free-kick with just over 20 minutes to play.
After the focus on Bellingham, it was another England starlet who struck to steal the limelight and kill off Dortmund’s hopes. Collecting the ball from a corner, Foden looked up to pick his spot from the edge of the box with a low drive which caught out Hitz at his near post.
The Dortmund ‘keeper could have done better to keep the ball – and the tie – in his grasp, but it was lightning-quick thinking from the ever-aware Foden.
City were comfortable in the final 15 minutes as they brought on Raheem Sterling for Mahrez while for Dortmund the impressive if exhausted Bellingham made way for Julian Brandt.
Guardiola’s men saw out the match, moving into the final four of the competition for the first time since thy had Manuel Pellegrini at the helm in 2016.
Sterner tests await against a PSG team fueled by similar lavish spending from wealthy Middle Eastern benefactors, but at least Guardiola’s men have put themselves within touching distance of the final – a feat which has eluded them so painfully in recent years.