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In pursuit of their maiden Champions crown, Man City face serial victors Real Madrid

In pursuit of their maiden Champions crown, Man City face serial victors Real Madrid
Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne (right) celebrates after scoring against Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (left) in the Uefa Champions League semi-final, first leg soccer match between Manchester City and Real Madrid in Manchester, UK, on 26 April 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Peter Powell)

Manchester City face a familiar foe in the Uefa Champions League semifinals — serial European champions Real Madrid. Revenge is on the mind of the Manchester club.  

A third successive appearance in the semifinals of the Uefa Champions League suggests that Manchester City are a force to be reckoned with in European soccer.

However, they still lack the silverware to unequivocally back this assertion up, despite their domestic dominance — season after season.

In this campaign, they are in contention to win a fifth English Premier League title from the last six. As well as being in the FA Cup final with neighbours Manchester United.

However, the trophy that they covet the most is the Uefa Champions League. They have pursued this title relentlessly since the Emirati owners took over the club in the European summer of 2008. So far it has been a fruitless endeavour in that regard.

This latest attempt has brought the Citizens to the semifinal stage once more. Like last season, it also sees Pep Guardiola and his men face off with record European champions Real Madrid.

In the previous instalment of Europe’s elite club competition, the team from Manchester went down 6-5 on aggregate to Los Blancos. The Spanish side then went on to extend their Champions League haul to 14 overall, after beating Liverpool in the final.

Real Madrid's Karim Benzema

Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema in action to score his club’s third goal in their 3-0 win against UD Almeria, in Madrid, Spain, on 29 April, 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Rodrigo Jimenez)

City’s dependable midfield pivot Rodri says the players have revenge on their minds after last season’s capitulation at the intimidating Santiago Bernabéu.

“Football always gives opportunities for revenge. You can always learn from previous experience. This year we’ve done very well and we arrive in our best moment”, the Spanish midfielder was quoted as saying by Marca.

“We respect Real Madrid very much, they are the kings of this competition. But we’re not afraid of anything,” added Rodri. “There is still a second leg. Whatever happens, [the match] will not be decided in the first leg.”

The two teams butted heads back in the 2015/2016 season as well, at this very stage of the competition. That was a season before two-time European champion Gaurdiola was roped in to deliver the goods by the club’s wealthy owners.

So far, he has not succeeded, only coming as close as reaching the final in 2021, before being bested by Chelsea at the final hurdle.

A win for City against Real will see them reach just their second decider in the contest. It will also bring them that much closer to rewriting their own history and clinching a maiden Champions League title — one of the very few trophies missing from the club’s cabinet since 2008.

Unlike his trusted midfield enforcer Rodri, Guardiola is of the opinion that his players should focus on doing the job at hand — without the distraction of heading into the clash with revenge as the primary motivator.

“That would be a huge mistake,” said Guardiola. “We’re not here for revenge. What happened, happened. Always in football, what happens is because you deserve it. We did everything to reach the final, more than everything, but sometimes it’s not enough.

“The lesson we can learn from what happened is to get a good result, perform well and have the opportunity to reach the final when we play the second leg in Manchester.”

Haaland effect

One major difference from the duo’s recent encounters is a Norwegian powerhouse named Erling Haaland. The forward has now scored 35 goals in just 27 Champions League appearances.

Still just 22 years old and in only his fourth campaign in the competition, the Norway sharpshooter is already 19th in the list of all-time Champions League scorers.

He’s leapfrogged players such as Samuel Eto’o, Antoine Griezmann, Kaká and Wayne Rooney and is now within sight of Edinson Cavani, Sergio Agüero and Juventus great Alessandro Del Piero.

“For us, he is a very important player from the beginning of the season and we have never doubted his ability to score goals. He knows how to move,” Rodri said of the impact that Haaland has had since his arrival from Borussia Dortmund.

“We have changed a bit how we played last season. We have adapted very well in the last three months.”

While Madrid’s defence will have to find a way to defend against Haaland, City too will have to find a way of preventing Real’s highly experienced side from deploying their shrewdness. DM

Champions League semifinal fixtures (first legs)

Tuesday, 9 May:

Real Madrid vs Manchester City (9pm)

Wednesday, 10 May:

AC Milan vs Inter Milan (9pm)

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