In a semifinal fit for a final, it’s Manchester City vs. Real Madrid on Tuesday in Champions League play. The first leg is nearly here as both teams battle it out for a spot in the June 10 final. Next week, it will be time for the second leg, but here is an opportunity in a semifinal rematch for either team to get a leg up. Of course, City got a leg up last season only to cave in late at the Santiago Bernabeu. But things are different now, especially with the addition of superstar striker Erling Haaland, making this one of the most intriguing semifinals we’ve seen in a long, long time.
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By Chuck Booth
One player to watch: Rodrygo. All of the pressure will be on Karim Benzema and for good reason as he has been Mr. Champions League but with City’s strength in central defense that will require other members of the squad to step up putting all eyes on Rodrygo. He couldn’t have picked a better time to bag a brace than the Copa Del Rey final on Saturday because he’ll be needed to attack the wings and make things happen in the match.
Underrated X-factor: Aurelien Tchouameni. Luka Modric is just returning from injury and while he may start the game it’s unlikely to see Modric go more than 60 minutes which is where Tchouameni comes in. He started off hot for Real Madrid before getting injured and has struggled to impact games lately. With the talent and passing range to dominate the midfield, this is the game where Tchouameni could have his Galactico moment. City already has so many things to account for in this Los Blancos side that Tchouameni can go under the radar and make things happen.
Biggest reason they’ll win: An unstoppable attack. Looking at Real Madrid, it doesn’t get much better than Vinicus Jr., Karim Benzema, and Rodrygo. The trio can score on anyone and no matter what City does, they can even come back. If the game turns into a track meet, that favors Real Madrid and could be a way that they end up advancing to the Champions League final.
Biggest reason they’ll lose: The absence of Eder Militao. Real Madrid are in shambles defensively without Ferland Mendy and Militao and they’ll need to find a way to stop Erling Haaland. On a good day that’s easier said than done but without your top defenders, it can be an impossible task. If Real Madrid goes behind early and needs to open up to chance the game, things could get lopsided putting them in a hole that can’t be overcome in the home leg.
By James Benge
One player to watch: You’d do well to miss the hulking presence at the tip of City’s attack anyway but this tie will almost certainly be defined by Erling Haaland. Pep Guardiola has adapted one of the most devastating teams in world football to exploit the qualities of one particular football and that approach has been emphatically vindicated with a season in which he has set about breaking almost every scoring record England has. He did not score in his previous meeting with Real Madrid. One suspects that won’t last.
Underrated X-factor: Madrid’s greatest threat could well come down the flanks through Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo. One suspects City will not fear that too much, so strong have their full backs been defensively so far this season. The return to contention of Kyle Walker gives the visitors a player with the straight line pace and nous to cope with Vinicius as well as any other whilst on the other flank Nathan Ake seems to be relishing his role as defensive stopper.
Biggest reason they’ll win: Simply put, they are the best team in Europe. City can beat you any way they need to, not just with the intricate build up play of years gone by but by hitting the big man Haaland who provides knockdowns for runners beyond him. They can play through, round or over your defense and look to be a pretty miserly backline at the other end of the pitch. If Guardiola’s men are on song, there simply might be nothing Madrid can do to beat them.
Biggest reason they’ll lose: It’s the Champions League. Mad stuff happens. And it tends to happen to Manchester City quite frequently. Oh and Madrid tend to be the ones who do it to other teams (see those two added time goals by Rodrygo in last year’s semifinal). Over a 38 game season few can stop City. Over two games? You never know.
City are a superior side, blessed with plentiful methods through which to beat Madrid. This is the Champions League and as such crazy things can happen but I wouldn’t bank on it. PICK: Real Madrid 0, Manchester City 2