Wednesday the 4th of May 2022, the 89th minute of the Champions League Semi Final second leg at the Bernabeu. Manchester City lead Real Madrid 1 nil on the night, and 5-3 on aggregate for the tie.
The tie looks over, City are through to the final in Paris…….then it happened, something that took City fans everywhere a long time to fully comprehend what occurred next or how on earth it happened.
First Rodrygo tapped in at the near post in the 90th minute to make it 5-4 on aggregate and set up a nervy finish to the epic tie.
Then less than a minute later that man struck again. Rodrygo fired in a bullet header to make it 5 all on aggregate and 2-1 to Real on the night and send the tie to extra time.
A Karim Benzema penalty at the beginning of extra time put Real Madrid ahead 3-1 on the night and 6-5 on aggregate, and ahead on aggregate for the first time in the tie, a position they’d not relinquish over the final 25 minutes of extra time.
The rest is history as Real would go on and capture their 14th Champions League title in Paris, and City would have to regroup to be back at this stage again next season.
Now just over a year later Manchester City again are drawn against Real Madrid in the Champions League Semi Final, and a chance to go one better then a year ago is presented to City.
This tie promises to be spectacular, and here I’ll preview the titanic clash between arguably the best two teams in Europe currently, first I’ll have a look at Real Madrid.
Real Madrid come into this tie sitting 3rd in the La Liga table after 33 games played , 14 points behind runaway La Liga leaders Barcelona. In La Liga Real Madrid haven’t been themselves this season, falling well behind a rampant Barcelona in La Liga.
They do however come into this game fresh off Copa Del Rey success beating Osasuna 2-1 in the final. This tie being a Champions League Semi Final, I’m expecting Real Madrid to bring their best for the business end of the Champions League as they so often do, highlighted by the fact they’ve won the competition 14 times, and are the current holders.
In the Champions League knockout rounds so far Real Madrid have disposed of Chelsea 4 nil on aggregate in the Quarter Final, and before that a 6-2 aggregate win over Liverpool in the Round of 16.
Madrid come into the Semi Final tie against Manchester City with no fear of English opposition as the previous rounds results suggest.
Leading into the first leg of the Semi Final tie at the Bernabeu, Real Madrid will enter the game without Eder Militao in defence.
The Brazilian defender having to serve a one match ban for the accumulation of yellow cards. There are also injury clouds hanging over Ferland Mendy, the left back having been out for over a month or so now. But from all recent reports Modric should be available for the first leg.
Another key player missing from the Semi Final clash a year ago is Casemiro who has since left Real Madrid for a certain club who shall remain nameless.
I feel Casemiro not being there to disrupt play in the midfield changes the dynamic of this year’s Semi Final clash, so I eagerly anticipate seeing if that’s the case.
Real Madrid however do not lack for the options to replace Casemiro with Eduardo Camavinga, Aurelio Tchouameni, Toni Kroos and Federico Valverde all capable of doing the job required for Real.
Whether or not they are able to against a rampant and in form Manchester City midfield over 180 minutes is a question that will be answered over the two legs of the tie.
Key Players for Real Madrid
I’ve gone with two players who will need to be kept quiet in the first leg and over the two legs for City to progress in Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema.
The pair were electric in the Semi Final clash last season, and Benzema’s performance for the entire of last season will live long in the memory.
The Frenchman is a lethal marksman with 29 goals this season in 38 appearances and 3 hat tricks in April alone. City will have to cut the supply to Benzema to keep the threat of him at bay. Benzema is still one of the world’s best number 9’s so keeping him quiet is no easy task.
Vinicius Junior has been nothing short of electric this season, continuing on with his development from last season. The Brazilian winger possesses lightning pace to go with his wizardry on the ball, he’s also a deadly finisher given the chances, emphasised by the fact he is Real Madri’s leading scorer in this season’s Champions League campaign to date with 6 goals in 10 appearances.
I do feel this is a tie made for Kyle Walker to start at right back, as his pace matches up well head to head with Vinicius Junior. If Walker does start that’s a head to head match up I look forward to seeing, amongst many others over the two legs.
City come into the Champions League Semi Final first leg sitting top of the Premier League table on the back of a 2-1 win against Leeds. Continuing a impressive run of 10 consecutive Premier League victories and being unbeaten in 20 games in all competitions since early February.
To progress to this stage of the competition Manchester City dispatched RB Leipzig 8-1 on aggregate in the Round of 16. A famous 4-1 aggregate victory over Bayern Munich in the Quarter Final secured City’s place in the Semi Final.
It’s that performance over two legs against Bayern Munich that has me feeling quietly confident that City have grown up in this competition, and are ready to tackle the Madrid test head on.
The resilience shown especially in the second leg in Munich will be needed again at times in the Semi Final. This time it seems this City squad possess the mettle to knuckle down and absorb the punches when required.
Manchester City come into the first leg with almost a full squad to choose from. No City player is suspended for the first leg. City only have one injury concern with Nathan Ake hobbling off against Leeds and has subsequently, not travelled to Spain with the squad.
With Kevin De Bruyne over his injury niggles which caused him to miss City’s clashes with Fulham and West Ham. De Bruyne returned against Leeds and looked his usual magical self.
De Bruyne’s return is a massive boost for City. The Belgian magician will be a welcome inclusion, and here’s hoping he’s at his best for the occasion.
Manchester City also come into this tie and especially the vital first leg with many key players in peak form. Kevin De Bruyne has been in season best form of late, his display against Arsenal fresh in the memory.
Jack Grealish has been nothing short of magnificent since the World Cup. Bernardo Silva has returned to his best in recent months, his workrate and wizardry will be hugely important here. Nathan Ake, Manuel Akanji, John Stones, Kyle Walker and Ruben Dias at the back have also made City solid at the back, so they’ll be vital here.
Key Players for Manchester City
In keeping with choosing two key players for Real Madrid, I’ll also pick my two key players for this tie for City. I’ve chosen Rodri and Erling Haaland as City’s two key men in this tie.
Rodri for me is vital in this tie. He’s almost Manchester City’s player of the season, and his ability to dictate midfield will be crucial to City’s chances to progress to the Final.
Rodri is the glue of City’s midfield, and it’s his grunt work which allows De Bruyne, Gundogan and co to go to work further up the pitch. Rodri can also bob up with a vital goal, his cracking goal in the Quarter Final first leg at the Etihad against Bayern is fresh in the memory.
Erling Haaland is also hugely important here. City’s Norwegian hitman and his ruthlessness in front of goal is something City lacked over the two legs last season.
Haaland has scored a remarkable 51 goals in all competitions and a competition leading 12 in this year’s Champions League. It does feel that this occasion is made for Haaland, and he’s made for it and his mere presence will frighten the Madrid defence as it does every other defence Haaland and City come up against.
Also I expect at times Haaland’s ability to be the out ball down the pitch will be a factor in this tie. Erling’s ability to hold up the ball and allow De Bruyne, Grealish, Bernardo, Foden and Mahrez to run off him may well be a tactic used when City face spells of pressure from Real Madrid.
You’d expect at times City will be under pressure from Real so that’s another weapon City possess to keep a eye out for.
Well it’s almost here. The chance I’ve personally waited a year for, another opportunity to go head to head with Real Madrid over two legs. I felt for the majority of last year’s Semi Final, City were the better team, but Real Madrid mastered the key moments to progress.
This occasion it feels different. This Manchester City side feels to me like the best City have had in this competition. The challenge ahead against perennial Champions League winners in Real Madrid won’t be a walk in the park, but you wouldn’t have it any other way.
Also another thing that makes this Semi Final clash different to last seasons is the first leg being at the Bernabeu, and the second leg being at the Etihad. Manchester City at home in Europe are a different beast, so City getting out of the Bernabeu in a good position is a must.
So bring on kick off, I can’t wait for the tie to begin at the Bernabeu. It will be a massive occasion, and some sumptuous football awaits.