Following two moments of individual brilliance at the Santiago Bernabeu, Manchester City and Real Madrid renew hostilities at the Etihad Stadium for the second leg of their Champions League semi-final on Wednesday night.
The teams reconvene at the Etihad on the back of a 1-1 draw in the Spanish capital, but only one can now potentially end the 2022-23 season as league champions and conquerors of Europe.
Vinicius Junior set the bar high, and Kevin De Bruyne raised it even higher during Man City and Real Madrid’s opening affair at the Bernabeu last Tuesday, where a quintessential Champions League display from Los Blancos saw Carlo Ancelotti’s team undo the Citizens’ earlier hard work through a Vinicius rocket.
The holders had drawn first blood when Man City looked the more likely to make the net ripple, but when Ancelotti’s men appeared destined to extend their lead, a sizzling strike from De Bruyne – displaying outrageous technique to pick out the bottom corner – ensured that Pep Guardiola’s side would take a draw back to their headquarters.
Avoiding a Bernabeu beating was priority number one for Man City’s treble chasers, who will undeniably enter Wednesday’s second leg with the favourites tag embroidered on their shirts, and they navigated a potential banana skin of a Premier League affair against Everton with ease at the weekend.
Two goals and an assist from the in-form Ilkay Gundogan put Man City within touching distance of the Premier League title, which will be theirs if they can get the better of a lacklustre Chelsea next weekend, but Guardiola’s men cannot be pre-occupied with thoughts of top-flight glory as they bid to upset the European apple cart.
Heading into Wednesday’s second leg with a 22-game unbeaten run to protect, Man City have incredibly strung together a 15-match winning streak at the Etihad Stadium in all tournaments – scoring at least twice in 14 of those contests – and not since September 2018 have they been beaten in a Champions League match on their own patch.
Streaks and statistics mean little to a team with 14 top-tier European titles to their name, though, and Real Madrid have an added incentive to put another blot on Man City’s continental notebook this week after the La Liga title was wrestled out of their grasp.
Los Blancos did what was needed to be done to delay Barcelona’s crowning, as a much-changed team saw off Getafe 1-0 thanks to Marco Asensio’s 20-yard strike, but La Blaugrana’s derby win over Espanyol on Sunday evening confirmed Barca’s status as La Liga’s top dogs.
While Ancelotti’s men may have the consolation prize of a Copa del Rey already wrapped up – they were given a guard of honour by Getafe before the weekend’s game – retaining their European honour will be at the forefront of their wily manager’s mind ahead of a largely inconsequential few weeks domestically.
Keeping Getafe at bay saw Real snap a five-game streak without a clean sheet, and while they have lost each of their last two La Liga fixtures on the road against Girona and Real Sociedad, Liverpool and Chelsea have already been put to the sword on their own territory by Los Blancos in the 2022-23 Champions League.
A repeat of last season’s 4-3 Etihad extravaganza would do for Man City lest they risk forming an unwanted trifecta with their Big Six rivals, while Real have never won on the Citizens’ turf in four previous attempts, and an Istanbul date with either Inter Milan or AC Milan will be the reward for the victors Wednesday’s tantalising clash of the titans.
Manchester City Champions League form:
Manchester City form (all competitions):
Real Madrid Champions League form:
Real Madrid form (all competitions):
We say: Manchester City 3-2 Real Madrid (Man City win 4-3 on aggregate)
Apparently setting up to hit Man City on the counter once more, such tactics initially paid dividends for European specialists Real Madrid in front of their own fans last week, and discounting Ancelotti’s champions in Europe is often an act of sheer folly.
Following a cagey first leg, the goals ought to flow in Wednesday’s winner-takes-all affair, but with the free-scoring Man City juggernaut slaying every foe that steps before them at the Etihad – as well as a greater depth of attacking talent in reserve – Guardiola’s men should complete their revenge mission from 2022, punch their ticket to the final and inch ever closer to that hitherto elusive European crown.