Man City’s unsung hero from Real Madrid semi-final should end the strangest debate of the season

If it wasn’t for one player, Manchester City might not be in the Champions League final, and their treble dreams may be over.

Kevin De Bruyne scored to level the tie at the Bernabeu, Bernardo Silva ran the show at the Etihad, and Jack Grealish was superb across both legs against Real Madrid. Ruben Dias and Kyle Walker were rock solid at the back, and City’s general dominance simply wouldn’t have happened without the midfield industry of Rodri or Ilkay Gundogan.

That’s before Erling Haaland’s selfless performances – where he could have scored a hat-trick but for Thibaut Courtois – and Manu Akanji’s impression as a world-class left-back are taken into account.

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But De Bruyne’s thunderbolt and Bernardo’s brilliance may not have counted for anything had Ederson not produced stunning saves in both games vs Madrid.

After City decided not to press too much for a winner at the Bernabeu, Real saw a chance to take a lead to Manchester. First Karim Benzema’s goalbound header was pushed away, and Vinicius Jr’s second rocket of the night was pushed away from the top corner. City took the drawback to the Etihad, and everyone knows what happened next.

Still, when City had raced into the lead in the second leg, Real threatened to respond as they did a week earlier to early pressure against them. Toni Kroos’ piledriver crashed against the bar, and replays showed Ederson had got the slightest of touches to ensure it didn’t take the back of the net off.

In the second half, with the 2-0 advantage that everyone knew could be overturned in the space of a minute, David Alaba’s free-kick looked to be dipping and swerving underneath the bar. Again, Ederson was equal, and City went on to score another two goals rather than concede two.

Ederson has come in for some unfair criticism this season
Ederson has come in for some unfair criticism this season

Even Ederson’s alertness to come out quickly on the rare occasions Vinicius Jr looked to get past Kyle Walker, ensured that Real’s only real attacking threat was nullified. The goalkeeper deserves as much credit as the other defenders for keeping Madrid out.

So maybe the next time fans question his ability to produce world-class saves in big games they should be shown a highlights package of Ederson’s two games vs Real Madrid. He has kept clean sheets in all three Champions League knockout games at home this season, and conceded just twice – a penalty when City were 4-0 up on aggregate, and an unstoppable effort from Vinicius.

Stefan Ortega may still have a key role to play in City’s treble bid, assuming he keeps his place against Manchester United in the FA Cup.

Any calls for the German to be picked regularly ahead of Ederson, however, should have ended emphatically after City’s ruthless run to the Champions League final.