Following one of the most extraordinary Champions League semi-final first-leg ties in recent memory, Real Madrid and Manchester City square off at the Bernabeu for the second leg on Wednesday night. Pep Guardiola’s side edged an astonishing battle 4-3 at the Etihad, 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.
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.
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.
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. 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 in M11. 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 half time at the Etihad and subsequently missed the title-clinching win over Espanyol alongside Eden Hazard, Gareth Bale and Luka Jovic.
Ancelotti affirmed last week that Alaba ought to be fine to line up for the second leg this week, where Eder Militao and Nacho Fernandez will also return from domestic suspensions to form a first-choice Blancos rearguard. The likes of Benzema, Vinicius, Toni Kroos and Ferland Mendy were all benched at the weekend with this encounter in mind, and Rodrygo will hope to keep his place in the final third after starting in the first leg and bagging a brace against Espanyol. As far as Man City are concerned, Guardiola will welcome Joao Cancelo back with open arms following his first-leg suspension, but the Catalan coach has admitted that Kyle Walker’s ankle problem could keep him out for the remainder of the season.
Nathan Ake trudged off with a knock in the win over Leeds and will need to be assessed alongside John Stones, so it could be another restless evening for Oleksandr Zinchenko on the left of the City defence. De Bruyne, Silva and Riyad Mahrez are all primed to return to the first XI after being named among the substitutes at Elland Road, while Real’s nemesis Gabriel Jesus prepares to spearhead the charge amid his hot streak of goalscoring form.
Real Madrid :
Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Kroos, Casemiro, Modric; Rodrygo, Benzema, Vinicius Jr
Manchester City :
Ederson; Cancelo, Dias, Laporte, Zinchenko; Silva, Rodri, De Bruyne; Mahrez, Jesus, Foden