MANCHESTER – After a 3-0 win against Bayern Munich on Tuesday, Manchester City looks to be cruising toward the Champions League semifinals for the third year in row.
Even if Pep Guardiola claimed it was a tortuous night watching from the sidelines at Etihad Stadium, it will take a remarkable fightback from Bayern to turn things around in next week's quarterfinals second leg in Germany.
“It was not comfortable. Emotionally I'm destroyed,” the City manager said. “I have (aged) 10 more years today. It was so demanding (a) game. Now I have to relax.”
While Guardiola is trying to keep minds focused, this was a statement performance from the Premier League champions against one of the giants of European soccer.
Bayern had gone into the game with a 100 percent record in this season’s competition, with eight straight wins, including victories against Inter Milan, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain — all under former coach Julian Nagelsmann.
But the visitors were blown away by City’s attacking power, with goals from Rodri, Bernardo Silva and Erling Haaland the difference on the night.
Bayern had chances, too. Leroy Sane forced three saves from Ederson early in the second half, including one when through on goal with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Yet by the time Haaland slid in to convert John Stones' headed knockdown in the 76th minute, the semifinals looked to be within reach, even with a second leg to come at Allianz Arena.
Both Guardiola and Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel pointed to the chances the German champions failed to convert. City, meanwhile, took the lead through a wonder goal from Rodri in the 27th and capitalized on a mistake from Dayot Upamecano for Bernardo to make it 2-0 in the 70th.
But it was still a performance of maturity that City has lacked when playing in European soccer's elite competition in the past.
In previous years Guardiola's team has buckled when under pressure on this stage.
Losses have come against underdogs Monaco, Tottenham and Lyon.
Guardiola, who won the Champions League twice as coach of Barcelona, has so far failed to deliver the trophy to City, despite dominating English soccer during his seven years at the club.
He has won four league titles, one FA Cup and four League Cups but has not been able to transfer that supremacy to Europe.
The closest he came was in 2021 when beaten in the final by a Chelsea team managed by Tuchel.
City was knocked out by Real Madrid in the semifinals last season.
But even with the last four in sight once again, Guardiola, who coached Bayern for three years before taking over at City, is reluctant to look that far ahead.
“Incredible result but I know a little bit what can happen in Munich,” he said. "We have to do something new and a little bit more because we suffered too much with the quality they have.
“To knock out these teams you have to have two good games, not just one.”
In the other quarterfinal first leg on Tuesday, Inter Milan won 2-0 at Benfica.
City took the lead through a stunning strike from Rodri.
Just moments after Ruben Dias had blocked a Jamal Musiala effort at the other end, the Spain international cut onto his left foot and swept a curling shot into the top corner from around 20 meters.
The home team could have doubled the lead shortly after, but Ilkay Gundogan was denied by the feet of Bayern goalkeeper Yann Sommer from close range.
The visitors mounted a fightback in the second half, with Sane the main threat before City scored a second after Upamecano lost possession deep in his own half.
Jack Grealish passed to Haaland, whose cross was headed in by Bernardo.
Haaland then got on the score sheet himself with his 45th goal of the season.
It leaves Tuchel, who only replaced Nagelsmann last month, with a major task to lift his players for the second leg next Wednesday.
“I try to not allow my players to focus on the result,” he said. “I think it is not a deserved result. It does not tell the story of this match and that will be the challenge, to focus on the things we did good. We played with personality, courage a lot of quality.”
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson