Real Madrid squares off with Manchester City at the Santiago Bernabeu tonight. If the 4-3 scoreline at the Etihad is anything to go by, then the reverse fixture would be a cracker.
Apex Football takes a closer look at the monstrous mission Pep and his boys have to carry out in Spain. Will City be able to see off Los Blancos in their own back yard or would the maverick Karim Benzema pull out another outstanding performance to whisk Madrid into the final?
The Tie Thus Far
Last week’s tussle between the respective champions of England and Spain at the Etihad was an instant classic, with early goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus seeing the hosts race into a 2-0 lead inside 11 minutes.
City could and should have scored a hatful more before the evergreen Ballon d’Or front-runner Karim Benzema reduced the deficit in trademark fashion, with second-half goals from Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva then sandwiched between a sensational Vinicius Junior effort and followed by an outrageous Benzema Panenka penalty that left a thrilling tie brilliantly poised at 4-3.
Despite being ahead, there is a sense of real potential missed opportunity as Pep Guardiola’s Premier League leaders head to the Bernabeu, where Real are typically so dominant, though very nearly came unstuck in humiliating fashion against Chelsea in the quarter-finals.
Both sides followed up that unforgettable first leg with thumping 4-0 domestic victories at the weekend – City winning at Leeds to regain top spot from Liverpool and Carlo Ancelotti’s Real celebrating clinching their 35th LaLiga title after a demolition of Espanyol.
What to Expect
While Los Blancos overturned a one-goal deficit to dump Paris Saint-Germain out of the tournament in this season’s last-16 stage, the capital outfit have never made it through to the final when losing the first leg of a semi-final, and history cannot repeat itself if a 14th European crown is to remain on the agenda.
It has been less than a month since an English team last came up trumps on the Bernabeu turf, although Chelsea’s thrilling 3-2 win proved inconsequential in the end, and not since December 2018 have Real Madrid failed to score at home in the Champions League – a streak which is unlikely to end even against the most resilient of City backlines.
Having outplayed, outfought and dominated Real Madrid for almost the entirety of the first half at the Etihad, City will no doubt feel aggrieved to travel to the Bernabeu with only a one-goal lead in tow, and there is plenty of work still to be done for a restless Guardiola, who is growing more and more desperate for that elusive European title
Man City will bring a four-game winning streak in all competitions to Real’s headquarters – during which time they have struck a remarkable 16 goals at a rate of four per game – and they have also let in just one goal in their last nine games on the road, but that may not count for much against Benzema and co.
City’s first-leg victory over Real represented their third consecutive win against the 13-time European champions – only two sides in Ajax and Bayern Munich have ever won four in a row against them – and the second leg sure does have a lot to live up to after the wonderful spectacle both sides served up at the Etihad.
The Cityzens are still without right-back Kyle Walker who may not play again this season as a result of an ankle injury he suffered in the game against Atletico Madrid.
Defensive colleague John Stones will be assessed after remaining sidelined for the win over Leeds, having limped off last week against Madrid – starting at right-back – in the first half.
Real Madrid boss Ancelotti took a risk rushing David Alaba back for the first leg following his injury woes, and the Austrian was taken off at halftime at the Etihad and subsequently missed the title-clinching win over Espanyol alongside Eden Hazard, Gareth Bale and Luka Jovic – the latter of whom is now back.
Alaba has made the squad for the second leg but may only make the bench having not trained yet, while Eder Militao and Nacho Fernandez will also return from domestic suspensions to form a strong Blancos rearguard. Isco has also missed out on a place in the squad due to illness.