Following two moments of individual brilliance at the Santiago Bernabeu, Manchester City and Real Madrid renew hostilities at the Etihad Stadium for the second leg of their Champions League semi-final on Wednesday night.
The teams reconvene at the Etihad on the back of a 1-1 draw in the Spanish capital, but only one can now potentially end the 2022-23 season as league champions and conquerors of Europe.
Vinicius Junior set the bar high, and Kevin De Bruyne raised it even higher during Man City and Real Madrid’s opening affair at the Bernabeu last Tuesday, where a quintessential Champions League display from Los Blancos saw Carlo Ancelotti’s team undo the Citizens’ earlier hard work through a Vinicius rocket.
The holders had drawn first blood when Man City looked the more likely to make the net ripple, but when Ancelotti’s men appeared destined to extend their lead, a sizzling strike from De Bruyne – displaying outrageous technique to pick out the bottom corner – ensured that Pep Guardiola’s side would take a draw back to their headquarters.
Avoiding a Bernabeu beating was priority number one for Man City’s treble chasers, who will undeniably enter Wednesday’s second leg with the favourites tag embroidered on their shirts, and they navigated a potential banana skin of a Premier League affair against Everton with ease at the weekend.
Two goals and an assist from the in-form Ilkay Gundogan put Man City within touching distance of the Premier League title, which will be theirs if they can get the better of a lacklustre Chelsea next weekend, but Guardiola’s men cannot be pre-occupied with thoughts of top-flight glory as they bid to upset the European apple cart.
Heading into Wednesday’s second leg with a 22-game unbeaten run to protect, Man City have incredibly strung together a 15-match winning streak at the Etihad Stadium in all tournaments – scoring at least twice in 14 of those contests – and not since September 2018 have they been beaten in a Champions League match on their own patch.
Streaks and statistics mean little to a team with 14 top-tier European titles to their name, though, and Real Madrid have an added incentive to put another blot on Man City’s continental notebook this week after the La Liga title was wrestled out of their grasp.
Los Blancos did what was needed to be done to delay Barcelona’s crowning, as a much-changed team saw off Getafe 1-0 thanks to Marco Asensio’s 20-yard strike, but La Blaugrana’s derby win over Espanyol on Sunday evening confirmed Barca’s status as La Liga’s top dogs.
While Ancelotti’s men may have the consolation prize of a Copa del Rey already wrapped up – they were given a guard of honour by Getafe before the weekend’s game – retaining their European honour will be at the forefront of their wily manager’s mind ahead of a largely inconsequential few weeks domestically.
Keeping Getafe at bay saw Real snap a five-game streak without a clean sheet, and while they have lost each of their last two La Liga fixtures on the road against Girona and Real Sociedad, Liverpool and Chelsea have already been put to the sword on their own territory by Los Blancos in the 2022-23 Champions League.
A repeat of last season’s 4-3 Etihad extravaganza would do for Man City lest they risk forming an unwanted trifecta with their Big Six rivals, while Real have never won on the Citizens’ turf in four previous attempts, and an Istanbul date with either Inter Milan or AC Milan will be the reward for the victors Wednesday’s tantalising clash of the titans.
The Man City medical team are only looking after one player at the moment in the form of Nathan Ake, who has now sat out the Premier League champions’ last two matches with a hamstring injury sustained against Leeds United earlier this month.
Last week, Guardiola affirmed that Ake was feeling “much better”, but the Dutchman has not made the squad for the second leg. With no other fitness concerns bedevilling them, the hosts ought to revert to a recognisable XI after an expected slew of changes at Goodison Park.
The well-rested De Bruyne, Jack Grealish, Bernardo Silva and John Stones are all primed and ready to be recalled to the starting lineup, as Grealish prepares to resume his feisty one-on-one battle with Real right-back Dani Carvajal following their first-leg fracases.
Similarly, Real Madrid have also the one injury concern to factor in for the second leg, and it also comes on the left-hand side of the backline, as Eduardo Camavinga limped off in the closing stages of their win over Getafe at the weekend.
However, Ancelotti immediately played down fears of a serious injury for Camavinga, who should be good to go at the Etihad, and the same can be said for David Alaba, Karim Benzema and Rodrygo, all of whom were not present in their recent top-flight encounter.
The visitors have also received a triple defensive boost ahead of the second leg, with Eder Militao and Carvajal back from Champions League and La Liga bans respectively, while Ferland Mendy completed 45 minutes of Saturday’s game following a long-standing calf issue.
With Militao back, reports from the Spanish media have claimed that Rodrygo could be sacrificed in a tactical shake-up from Ancelotti, who could deploy Camavinga in a more familiar midfield role.
Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Walker, Dias, Akanji; Stones, Rodri; Silva, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Grealish; Haaland
Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Rudiger, Alaba; Kroos, Camavinga, Modric; Valverde, Benzema, Vinicius Jr