Real Madrid travel to Manchester on Tuesday for their season defining Champions League semifinal return leg away to Manchester City.
The 1-1 draw from the first leg leaves the tie finely balanced, with City perhaps slight favorites, but Real Madrid’s skill and pace on the break means they will step onto the pitch at the Ethaid Stadium on Wednesday night thinking they have every chance of reaching yet another final.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side may have won the European Supercup and the World Club Cup this season and then followed those tournaments up with the Copa del Rey after beating Osasuna in the final, however, they were well beaten in the Spanish Supercup by FC Barcelona and on Sunday saw how Barca assured La Liga with four games left to play.
Ancelotti will probably be safe whatever Wednesday’s result and he has done a good job to build a side that has a clear style of play, which is able to dominate smaller teams and hit others on the break with the pace of Vinicius Jr, Fede Valverde and Rodrygo.
However, Madrid President, Florentino Perez is notoriously capricious and at a club where second place is seen as failure, a bad defeat on Wednesday would ask a few questions of Ancelotti’s future.
Last season was the campaign of miracle fightbacks for Madrid as they came back from the dead in the last-16 to beat Paris Saint Germain with three late goals when 2-0 down on aggregate and being outplayed.
They were also struggling in the quarterfinal against Chelsea before battling through, while last season’s semifinal saw them on the ropes against Manchester City in the last minute, before two goals from Rodrygo in injury time took their semifinal into extra time against a rival who probably still can’t believe what happened.
All three of those fightbacks came in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, with 80,000 fans behind them, which was a big advantage for Madrid, but this time they are away from home and it is Manchester City who will have a wall of sound behind them.
Pep Guardiola’s side have the disadvantage of not playing their Premier League game away to Everton until Sunday and although he rested Kevin de Bruyne, Jack Grealish, Bernardo Silva and John Stones, Guardiola made no secret of his unhappiness at having 24 hours less recovery time than Madrid, due to the Eurovision song contest.
Ancelotti in contrast was able to completely rotate his side for Saturday’s 1-0 at home to Getafe and Madrid should go into the game slightly fresher than their rivals, who have had to dig deep in their efforts to win the Premier League.
Eduardo Camavinga should be able to play at left back after suffering a slight twist to his left knee on Saturday, while Ancelotti has confirmed that Antonio Rudiger will start again after he marked Erling Haaland out of last week’s draw.
Whether Rudiger and right back Dani Carvajal will be given as much leeway by the referee on Wednesday night as they got in the Bernabeu last week will be interesting to see, with Carvajal especially lucky to get away unpunished after several bad challenges on Grealish and any yellow cards (especially in the first half) would condition how Madrid defend.
The tie is in the balance, with many questions to answer: Can Madrid do it again on the break and can they keep Haaland as quiet as they did last week? If the answer is yes to both questions, they will go through: if not, expect Manchester City to reach the final for the second time in their history. ■