Once again Pep Guardiola and Manchester City have come up short in the Champions League. Guardiola's team lost the control he craves at a vital time, just as Ilkay Gündogan had feared.
For all that their hopes of a domestic treble remain, the trophy that Manchester City and Pep Guardiola really want was blown out of reach on Wednesday in the kind of chaotic storm the Spaniard has spent a coaching career trying to keep at bay.
After VAR, the antihero that rewrote the final act of the most dramatic of nights, produced its final show-stealing cameo to overturn Raheem Sterling’s late strike, Ilkay Gündogan collapsed in his own penalty box. A pat of consolation from Dele Alli could not rouse the German midfielder, so Pep Guardiola took on the task, leading his midfield general off the battlefield.
In common with most of the home fans, but in contrast to the aftermath of the first leg defeat, the pair seemed unable to think of much to say.
Last week Gündogan, who is stalling on a new contract to Guardiola’s irritation, had suggested that City, usually so dominant, clinical and controlled were spooked by the Champions League.
"There were many simple mistakes," he said. "I have the feeling that we are nervous in important Champions League games. We have always made the wrong decisions.
"In such games, we always want to do something special because it means: Champions League semifinals. Sometimes, less is more.”
Words of warning prove prophetic
At the time, the City boss disagreed but a ragged, frenzied and scarcely believable opening 21 minutes filled with errors, deflections, flashes of true inspiration and five goals made the playmaker look a prophet.
City led after four minutes, then trailed 2-1 after 10 and restored parity on the night on 11. At that point, all discipline was lost, and 22 experienced international players began wildly following the ball like seagulls swooping on a discarded chip.
Amid the chaos were moments fit for the stage. Raheem Sterling's opener had shades of Lionel Messi from a player who now belongs in the tier immediately below the Argentinian and both Son Heung-min's strikes were equally emphatic. The South Korean's decisive movement and dead-eyed finishing was a counterpoint to the wild swirl of the game around him, while his fellow Bundesliga alumnus Kevin de Bruyne's low whipped ball for Sterling's second and City's third was a pass only he could play.
But after the normally impeccable David Silva rolled a corner straight out of play and Benjamin Mendy was equally careless in possession, de Bruyne turned first to make a point to the struggling Aymeric Laporte before turning his attentions to Gündogan. The gesture was one designed to appeal for calm in control in the center of a feverish atmosphere not normally associated with the Etihad.
"I have never heard noise like that since I have been in Manchester but football is unpredictable," said the Catalan after the game.
Unfamiliar role for Gündogan
Gündogan, who had struggled somewhat with the fluid movement of Spurs' inter-changing front players early on, listened to his teammate's words. And acted. As classy a player as he is, Gündogan's role for City on Wednesday was different, and much more limited, than that he'd play for almost any other club in the world. Such is the depth of midfield talent at Guardiola's disposal.
After City regained their lead on the night, Gündogan picked up the slack, slowly guiding City towards the serene but incisive football that's made them such a devastating side. A pass here, an interception there and just after the break, a smart little run that almost out City ahead in the tie for the first time.
With de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva also starting to tick, a semblance of control was creeping back in to the home side's play. But still there was a certain skittishness about City, that only partly settled when de Bruyne drove forward and slipped in for Sergio Aguero to slash home for 4-2.
But the storm could not be bottled for long enough and when substitute Fernando Llorente bundled home a corner with 17 minutes remaining, control soon gave way to desperation.
Leroy Sane, the only other German player remaining in the competition was thrown on for Mendy and nodded down at the back post to offer Gündogan the chance to book his side a semifinal date with Ajax. He skied it. And, thanks to the late VAR intervention, Sterling could not prove his, or City’s, savior.
A delighted but bemused Jan Vertonghen summed it up after the match. "Crazy game," laughed the Belgian as he chatted with reporters. Guardiola opted for "cruel". The former Bayern Munich coach went on to question the VAR decision that saw Llorente's goal awarded. But he'll also surely lament the fact that his team allowed this one to slip to the point where it was out of their control.