With Liverpool’s victory over Villarreal on Tuesday night, another La Liga vs Premier League clash unfolds tonight as Real Madrid host Manchester City at the Bernabue hoping to stop an all English Champions League final for the second year running following one of the most extraordinary semi-final first-leg ties in recent memory.
Pep Guardiola’s side edged an astonishing battle 4-3 at the Etihad Stadium, but their hosts are no strangers to stunning European comebacks in the Spanish capital.
The confidence, cheek and panache to produce a panenka penalty in the semi-finals of the Champions League typified the barnstorming season Karim Benzema is currently enjoying for the newly-crowned La Liga champions, who were indebted to their two star forwards at the Etihad in the first leg and will be banking on him once again to see them through.
Benzema’s brace either side of Vinicius Junior’s dazzling run and finish has kept the tie alive for a Real side whose defence was also breached at will by the Citizens, who struck four times themselves through Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Jesus, Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden on the night.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side quickly dusted off their shooting boots to hit Espanyol for four without reply and confirm their status as La Liga champions with four games to spare at the weekend, and a domestic and European double would certainly send a reminder to the footballing world of their long-standing continental dominance.
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.
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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.
While Real Madrid confirmed their status as national champions with a 4-0 win at the weekend, City’s identical victory over Leeds United only leaves them one point clear of Liverpool at the summit, and the pressure could hardly be weighing heavier on the Citizens’ shoulders right now.
Despite being ahead, there is a sense of real potential missed opportunity as 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.
The first-leg was hugely one-sided, with Madrid needing an incredible amount of fortune to go into the second leg only one goal down. Los Blancos will need to up their game in the second-leg and of course some more fortunes if they are to prevent Manchester City from having a consecutive crack at the Champions League crown in a consecutive all English final.
Recent history certainly favours the Citizens ahead of their trip to the Spanish capital, with the Premier League leaders only being knocked out in one of their last 10 Champions League ties when winning the first leg, and that came all the way back in Guardiola’s debut season to Monaco.
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 in M11.
Real Madrid’s last victory over Manchester City came back in May 2016, when they advanced to the final in Milan after a Fernando own goal in another semi-final second leg at the Bernabeu.
Real Madrid wins: 2
Man City wins: 3
- 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.
- Real Madrid have only lost three times at home all season and two of those have fallen in their last four, including at home to Chelsea in the last round of the Champions League. Manchester City also won at the Bernabeu last season and are unbeaten away from home in all competitions since December.
- Casemiro’s return from suspension is massive for Real Madrid as he was sorely missed in midfield in the first leg. His return should see Federico Valverde move back into the front three as a defensive winger.
- David Alaba came off injured in the first leg and is reportedly set to miss the return game, with Nacho poised to deputise here.
- Joao Cancelo is back from suspension, while John Stones is the only player absent from training on Tuesday with Kyle Walker set to return at right-back.
Sitting back and holding what they have will no doubt only end one way for a Man City side whose best form of defence is to attack, especially with Benzema and Vinicius Junior capable of plucking goals out of nowhere for the Spanish champions.
Guardiola’s side could have easily made the net ripple on several more occasions at the Etihad, and while the presence of Casemiro is a humongous boost for the hosts – whose European nous cannot be questioned – City can strike back a couple of times themselves to progress to their second final in as many seasons.
SCORES: Real Madrid 2-2 Manchester City (Man City win 6-5 on aggregate)
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