Tuesday night, as Real Madrid welcomes Manchester City to the Spanish capital for the first leg of their Champions League semifinal, the bright lights of the Bernabeu glow down on another enthralling match.
The defending champions defeated Chelsea in their quarterfinal over two legs with four unanswered goals to advance, while Pep Guardiola’s steadfast contenders defeated Bayern Munich 4-1 on the road.
A draw against Manchester City in the semifinals could be the biggest threat to Real Madrid’s ability to successfully defend their UEFA Champions League (UCL) title. Although Madrid prevailed in the same scenario when these two European powerhouses met in the semifinal stage of the previous season, the Spaniards’ inconsistent performance over their last four games in all competitions (W2, L2) makes them difficult to forecast.
After winning the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup earlier in the year, they can feel confident after winning the Copa del Rey on Saturday with a 2-1 victory over Osasuna. The ultimate goal is now to add a 15th UCL/European Cup, and they appear well positioned to move one step closer to doing so if they can continue to build on an already excellent record of winning 13 of their previous 16 home games in Europe (D1, L2).
In their apparently never ending pursuit of their first UCL trophy, Manchester City is at a point in the season where it feels like “now or never.” With a free scoring Erling Haaland by their side, this does seem to be City’s best opportunity to date. On Saturday, they were still able to defeat Leeds 2-1 in Premier League play despite not giving their finest effort of the year. As a result, they kept their advantage at the top of the table.
The focus will soon return to Europe, but there are still psychological hurdles to clear after being eliminated by Real Madrid in two of their previous three UCL semi final appearances. The same challenges apply to manager Pep Guardiola as well. Despite winning the UCL twice as a manager, it’s fascinating to note that in six of his past nine UCL semi final victories, the team he’s in charge of was eliminated at the quarterfinal stage.
Vincius Jnior, who is so frequently Real’s UCL inspiration, has scored nine of his past ten goals in the competition before the hour mark. He may have the difficult challenge of trying to surpass Haaland’s scoring rate, which is the best of any player with at least five goals in UCL history with a goal per 58 minutes on average.
Militao will be suspended for the first leg, as previously stated, so Real Madrid will have to find a substitute. The center back was cautioned for the third time in this season’s tournament during the second leg of the quarterfinals, and players with one or two bookings had their yellow cards wiped.
Ferland Mendy, the left back, is also having trouble recovering from a calf issue and is anticipated to miss out as well. However, Luka Modric, who overcame a hamstring issue to participate as a substitute in the Copa del Rey final, should be given the go ahead to start on Tuesday, which will be music to the ears of Ancelotti and the Bernabeu devoted.
In order to create room for Modric, Aurelien Tchouameni may be the unfortunate fulcrum, and Antonio Rudiger will team up with David Alaba at the back in Militao’s place. Meanwhile, Eduardo Camavinga, who at the youthful age of 20 can now boast having won every major championship with Real Madrid, should keep playing in his impromptu left back position.
Guardiola is also worried about the defense after losing Nathan Ake to what appeared to be a hamstring problem with 54 minutes remaining against Leeds. Fans are eagerly awaiting word on the Dutchman’s condition. Cole Palmer, who is only 21 years old, would never have started here despite his ankle giving him trouble.
In any event, Guardiola will be tempted to bring in Kyle Walker to try to contain Vinicius Junior, and a number of rested regulars, including Jack Grealish, Rodri, John Stones, and Bernardo Silva, are also expected to make a comeback after Guardiola made several changes over the weekend.
Despite the fact that Haaland did not have a good day in front of goal at the weekend, the 35 goals Norwegian, who recently broke the single season Premier League goal record with the same number, averages a goal every 58 minutes in the Champions League, which is by far the best ratio in the competition’s history. He will give his fans plenty to think about on Tuesday.
Real Madrid Possible Starting Lineup
Courtois, Carvajal, Rudiger, Alaba, Camavinga, Valverde, Kroos, Modric, Rodrygo, Benzema and Vinicius Jr.
Manchester City possible starting lineup
Ederson, Walker, Dias, Akanji, Stones, Rodri, Silva, De Bruyne, Gundogan, Grealish and Haaland.
We predict: Real Madrid 2-2 Manchester
Given Los Blancos’ recent struggles to close the back door at home, Man City, and Haaland in particular, will be licking their lips at the thought of facing a Real Madrid backline without Militao.
Real Madrid, though, is never to be written off in Europe, if there is one thing to know about them. Undoubtedly, the first leg should live up to its potential. We anticipate the two titans to play to a thrilling draw, which would be a better outcome for Guardiola’s team before the second leg at the Etihad on May 17.