Sport

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

It will be a case of experience vs youthful ambition when Real Madrid and Manchester City clash once more

It will be a case of experience vs youthful ambition when Real Madrid and Manchester City clash once more
Vinicius Junior of Real Madrid battles for the ball with Ruben Dias of Manchester City during their Uefa Champions League semifinal first leg match at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid on 9 May 2023. (Photo: Diego Souto / Quality Sport Images / Getty Images)

After a cagey semifinal first leg in Spain that ended 1-1 a week ago, Manchester City and Real Madrid are ready to clash in the reverse fixture on Wednesday night. Will Real’s European pedigree see them break City’s hearts for a second successive season?

When asked if his side are the favourites to win the Caf Champions League this season, Mamelodi Sundowns head coach Rulani Mokwena rebutted the assertion by citing something known as “football heritage”.

He explained that as great as Sundowns are as a team, the other teams remaining in the semifinals of the competition (Al Ahly, Wydad Casablanca and Espérance) have more pedigree than the South Africans. Which might serve them well in pressure situations. They’ve been there, done that and acquired the imposing aura.

Mokwena’s men, by contrast, have only clinched the African title once. They’ve finished runners-up just as many times, and are in pursuit of only their third appearance in the continental contest’s decider.

One can draw some parallels between Sundowns’ situation and that of Manchester City.

Eduardo Camavinga of Real Madrid is challenged by Kyle Walker of Manchester City during their Uefa Champions League semifinal first-leg match at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid on 9 May 2023. (Photo: Diego Souto / Quality Sport Images / Getty Images)

Domestically, each is a powerhouse that has won the league on the trot in recent campaigns. Both clubs are on the cusp of reaching a rare continental final. To do that both must beat the defending champions in the semifinals.

Pep Guardiola’s men are chasing just their second appearance in the Uefa Champions League final. They were stunned 1-0 by Chelsea in the 2021 decider.

They clocked a personal Champions League milestone as recently as the 2015/16 season when they reached the semis for the first time in their history. 

But between 2017 and 2020 they could not even make it past the quarterfinal stage. Then they bounced back to push all the way to that ill-fated maiden final appearance.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: In pursuit of their maiden Champions crown, Man City face serial victors Real Madrid

By contrast, Real are currently the defending champions of the competition they’ve won a record 14 times. Last season they used their Champions League street smarts to beat City 6-5 on aggregate at this very stage of the competition. Before edging Liverpool in the final.

In comparison to City’s singular appearance in a Champions League decider, Los Blancos have made 17 appearances. During that time, they have only lost on three occasions.

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti reacts during their Champions League clash against Manchester City in Madrid on 9 May 2023. (Photo: Diego Souto / Quality Sport Images / Getty Images)

The club’s storied history in European competition dates to 1956, when they first tasted continental glory. They have since developed a keen taste for it.

So much so that they could be having an average season (by their high standards) domestically but manage to balance it out with a blistering run in the Champions League.

Never mind the comparisons between the clubs. Individuals at Real (such as stalwarts Karim Benzema, Luka Modrić and Toni Kroos) have more Champions League final triumphs than City might acquire in our lifetime. Benzema and Modrić have both won it five times, while Kroos has four gold medals in the competition.

Even in the battle of the managers Carlo Ancelotti trumps Pep Guardiola. Though City’s Spanish tactician is no slouch in the competition (with two European titles, attained while still coaching Barcelona), his Italian counterpart is the benchmark when it comes to Champions League success for managers.

Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne celebrates his goal against Real Madrid on 9 May 2023. (Photo: Angel Martinez / Getty Images)

The Los Blancos mentor holds both the record of reaching the most finals, as well as winning the most titles in Europe’s premier interclub contest. He has five finals under his belt with AC Milan and Madrid, and won four of them.   

Well-balanced tie    

This is football heritage. But according to another saying, you’re only as good as your last game. History and experience count for little.

At one-all, the tie is well balanced. It will be 11 against 11 at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday. It will also be a spectacle between teams with exceptionally talented squads.

“Now it’s like a playoff. We can defend better in some departments and maybe we can attack a little differently,” said City manager Guardiola.

Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola meets his Real Madrid counterpart Carlo Ancelotti before their Champions League semifinal first leg match at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid on 9 May 2023. (Photo: Julian Finney / Getty Images)

In spite of Real’s pedigree, the Citizens will fancy their odds in Manchester. Guardiola’s men are on a 14-match unbeaten streak at the Etihad.

By contrast, Madrid have only managed to move on to the next round just twice on the nine occasions they have failed to win the first leg of a Champions League knockout match at home.

Ominously for City, both occasions of Real’s progress despite the above instance were in Manchester, against their red neighbours, Manchester United. In 2000 and 2013.

The match kicks off at 9pm on Wednesday. DM

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