A City Group forward scores four goals against Real Madrid, tearing their defence to shreds on a humbling night for the European champions. But this isn’t Erling Haaland in the Champions League semifinals. At least not yet.

This is Valentin ‘Taty’ Castellanos, on loan at Girona from New York City FC, on what he called “a dream night,” a historic 4-2 LaLiga win that set alarm bells ringing at Madrid, with their biggest games of the season just days away.

A league defeat didn’t mean much to Madrid at this stage — they kicked off at Girona’s Montilivi stadium 11 points behind leaders Barcelona, who had all but secured the title by beating Atletico Madrid two days earlier — but the manner of this loss was a shock to the system.

Players just don’t score four goals in one game against Real Madrid. The last to do so was a certain Robert Lewandowski — now a Barca player — in a 4-1 Champions League semifinal win for Borussia Dortmund in April 2013. In LaLiga, you have to go all the way back to December 1947 and Esteban Echevarría, who scored five for Real Oviedo in a 7-1 thrashing.

Castellanos, 24, is a gifted player, who won the MLS Golden Boot in 2021 and had scored seven LaLiga goals before Tuesday’s game. But it made you wonder. If he can do this for Girona … what could Haaland do when Manchester City visit the Bernabeu on May 9?

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An experienced, usually solid Madrid defence — the team had kept six clean sheets in their previous seven games in all competitions — made up of Eder Militao, Antonio Rudiger, Dani Carvajal and Nacho Fernandez was exposed again and again by a quick-thinking, technically sound Girona team.

For all Castellanos’ achievements with NYCFC, this must rank as the best night of his career. His task at Girona has been difficult, competing for a place with veteran club legend Cristhian Stuani, 36. There’s no doubt who’s their first-choice centre-forward now.

Castellano’s first, in the 12th minute, was a well-taken header from Miguel Gutierrez‘s cross. The second, midway through the first half, was even better, racing onto a ball over the top and holding off a half-hearted challenge from Militao before slotting past backup goalkeeper Andriy Lunin.

His third, just after halftime, was a straightforward finish, gifted far too much space inside the box to convert first-time, while his fourth — after an hour — was another header, ghosting behind a static Militao.

This was an embarrassing night for the Brazil defender, praised as “the best in the world” by Celta Vigo coach Carlos Carvalhal just three days earlier, with the player himself saying last week that he was “on the way” to that status. When Militao is good, he’s very good. When he loses his focus, this happens.

He wasn’t the only culprit. Full-backs Carvajal and Nacho were tormented by Girona’s wingers and full-backs. Yan Couto, in particular, gave Nacho such a difficult time that the defender was substituted after just 52 minutes, replaced by a not-fully fit Eduardo Camavinga.

The only bright spot for Madrid was Vinicius Junior, who scored their first goal — to make it 2-1 — before creating a late second for Lucas Vazquez. Vinicius is now frighteningly consistent in delivering an end product, as well as frequent, unnecessary spats with opposition defenders. This was the seventh consecutive game in which he has contributed either a goal, an assist, or both.

Madrid now have two league games to get through, at home against Almeria and away at Real Sociedad, before the Copa del Rey final against Osasuna on May 6. That will be followed three days later by the first leg against Pep Guardiola’s City.

Until now, the team had done a good job of keeping their league form going despite the lack of a title race, with wins against Real Valladolid, Cadiz and Celta Vigo this month — and what looked like one outlier loss to Villarreal — maintaining confidence and fitness levels before the challenges that really matter.

Until now. Coach Carlo Ancelotti called this performance and result “inexplicable.” He’s a master at squad management — as well as being an underrated tactician — and he’ll need all his experience to make sure this can be dismissed as another freak result in a game with nothing on the line.

City, Guardiola and Haaland are waiting.

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Girona’s Castellanos makes history vs. Real Madrid as Man City await