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How Real Madrid Beat Manchester City

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Pep Guardiola’s team isn’t the primary to experience that, in fact. It is difficult to inform whether it’s something concerning the Bernabéu that does it, or whether it’s the effect of feeling like you’re living in a self-fulfilling prophecy, but this place has an unrivaled ability to unsettle even the best players, the smoothest teams. It scrambles the brain, jumbles the code, shorts the wiring.

It happened to P.S.G., too, when Gianluigi Donnarumma came upon the ball and Neymar and Lionel Messi disappeared from view. It happened, too, to Chelsea on the last — or what seemed, until very recently, just like the last — with the European champion seemingly coasting to victory after which, without ever really noticing, staring down the barrel of defeat.

City, greater than anyone, must have been immune. It is difficult to assume a team more versed in its ideas than Manchester City — though Liverpool would have a case — or a team higher equipped to stay steadfast to its principles.

And yet City, too, froze. Even before every little thing fell apart, it had seemed inhibited, cagey, troubled by something, a reduced version of the team which may — with slightly more ruthlessness and a touch more luck — have scored six or seven in the primary leg last week. It had only found slightly composure after Riyad Mahrez had scored, when the prospect of a spot in the ultimate against Liverpool at the top of May was so tantalizingly close.

That, ultimately, is the effect of Real Madrid’s belief. It believes it can win with such conviction that it proves contagious. That’s the form its magic takes: it’s a glamour, the facility to dazzle an opponent, to persuade it that the world ought to be as you see it, as you’d want it to be.

It can’t be explained. It doesn’t require specific ingredients, or any ingredients in any respect, really. There might be no noise, no hope, no spark and no time, and yet Real Madrid can still conjure it from the air, from the sky, from something deep inside. It’s something that happens, something that happens to Real Madrid, and to whoever has the misfortune to be standing in its way.

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