Real Madrid and Manchester City will battle it out at the Santiago Bernabeu this week for a spot in the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League final.
With only three matches left to play in the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League, we are firmly in the endgame. Villarreal host Liverpool in the second leg of the semi-final on Tuesday night to determine one of the finalists. And on Wednesday, Real Madrid will square off against Manchester City at the Santiago Bernabeu for the second slot in the finals that will take place in France.
The first leg, played at the Etihad Stadium last week, was an absolute crackerjack of an encounter as Manchester City and Real Madrid put up a thrilling goal-fest that ended 4-3 in favour of the Premier League champions. Despite being pegged back time and again, Los Blancos kept coming back into the game to ensure they are still alive in the tie.
Following that match, Manchester City warmed up for the second leg in Spain with a 4-0 thumping over Leeds United in the Premier League while resting key players like Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva. And Pep Guardiola will be hoping that his men can carry forward in the same vein of form at the Bernabeu and get the job done.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid also secured a 4-0 victory of their own, beating Espanyol at home on Saturday. The victory saw Carlo Ancelotti’s side being crowned the champions of La Liga, following which the morale in the camp will be sky-high. They have pulled off unlikely comebacks in the Champions League against PSG and Chelsea this season and will need to do so again on Wednesday night.
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The big blow for Real Madrid comes in the form of David Alaba’s absence, with the Austrian international an injury-enforced absentee, even though he has been named in the squad by Carlo Ancelotti. He joins Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale out on the treatment tables. Casemiro is back in contention for the home team, though, after missing the first leg with an injury.
Real Madrid will set up in their usual 4-3-3 shape against Manchester City, with Thibaut Courtois guarding the goal as always. Dani Carvajal and Ferland Mendy are guaranteed to start as the full-backs, while Eder Militao will likely be partnered with Nacho at the heart of the Real Madrid defence in Alaba’s absence.
With Casemiro back, he walks right into the starting XI, slotting in at the base of the three-man midfield for Ancelotti’s side. He will have the unenviable task of keeping close tabs on Kevin De Bruyne on Wednesday night. Luka Modric and Toni Kroos will occupy the remaining two midfield slots for Real Madrid.
Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior are certainties to feature in two of the three attacking slots for the home team. Ancelotti has used Federico Valverde on the right flank in the big games this season, but Rodrygo Goes’s form warrants a selection. Considering that Los Blancos will need goals on the night, the Brazilian might get the nod over the Uruguayan midfielder.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Nacho, Mendy; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Rodrygo, Benzema, Vinicius Jr.
Manchester City have welcomed Kyle Walker back into training ahead of their big game at the Spanish capital. However, Pep Guardiola insisted that a call on his involvement will be taken closer to the game. John Stones is ruled out of the clash after picking up an injury in the first leg at the Etihad Stadium. Joao Cancelo is back available for the Cityzens after missing the first leg due to suspension.
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Like Real Madrid, the Cityzens will take the field in a 4-3-3 shape in front of goalkeeper Ederson Moraes. The returning Walker should start at right-back, given what is at stake, while Cancelo should line up on the left side of the backline. Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte ought to form the centre-back pairing that will have to deal with Karim Benzema.
Rodri is a certainty at the base of the midfield. The former Atletico Madrid ace will be aiming to help his team get across the line at the Bernabeu by keeping a lid on Kroos and Modric. Bernardo Silva’s work rate and industry could earn him a starting berth ahead of Ilkay Gundogan, while Kevin De Bruyne is the undisputed creator-in-chief for the visiting side.
Gabriel Jesus was a handful for Real Madrid the last time these two teams met and should feature at the Bernabeu. The Brazilian ought to be flanked by Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden, with Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling options from the bench for Guardiola.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Dias, Laporte, Cancelo; Silva, Rodri, De Bruyne; Mahrez, Jesus, Foden
- Manchester City have won their last three Champions League matches against Real Madrid. Only two teams have ever won four in a row against Los Blancos in European competitions – Ajax (between 1973 and 1975) and Bayern Munich (between 2000 and 2002).
- Real Madrid have been eliminated in all five previous UEFA Champions League semi-finals when they have lost the first leg. However, they have progressed from two of their last three knockout ties when losing the first leg.
- Manchester City have progressed in nine of the previous ten Champions League two-legged knockout ties when they have come out on top in the first leg.
- Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior has created 28 chances from open play in the UEFA Champions League this season. It is the most in the competition by a player since Dusan Tadic in 2018/19 (36).
- Kevin De Bruyne has 18 Champions League assists for Manchester City. Only Neymar (25) and Kylian Mbappe (20) have managed more assists in the competition since De Bruyne’s debut for the Cityzens in September 2015.
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Real Madrid’s talisman, Karim Benzema, has stepped up on every occasion when the team has needed him this term. The Frenchman did it against PSG in the Round of 16, against Chelsea in the quarter-finals and will need to do so when Manchester City visit the Bernabeu.
Benzema has scored nine Champions League goals in the knockout stages this season. Only Cristiano Ronaldo in 2016/17 (10) has scored more knockout goals in a single season in the competition. With Real Madrid trailing on the aggregate scoreline, they will need to be off the blocks quickly on Wednesday and need Benzema to be at his clinical best in front of goal.
Should he score, the veteran superstar could become the fourth player to score in both legs of the quarter-final and the semi-final of the competition in a single season after Fernando Morientes (2003/04, AS Monaco), Neymar (2014/15, Barcelona) and Edin Dzeko (2017/18, AS Roma).
Real Madrid 1-2 Manchester City
Real Madrid will be high on confidence after their La Liga title triumph at the weekend. And playing at home in the Champions League, it would be foolhardy to rule the Spanish giants out of the contest. They pulled off a remontada against PSG at the Bernabeu and clawed their way back against Chelsea to ensure they progressed to the semi-finals on the aggregate scoreline.
But Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are relentless and showed how easily they could carve through their hosts in the first leg, although Casemiro’s return could prohibit them from doing so on Wednesday. But with Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo back, the Cityzens will be setting out a stronger team than the one at the Etihad last week as well.
Manchester City have not lost any game on the road in over four months, while Real Madrid have lost two of their previous four at home in all competitions. It promises to be another nail-biting encounter, with perhaps not as many goals as in the first leg. But the Premier League title holders should have enough to eliminate the newly-crowned La Liga champions and qualify for a second consecutive final.