Real looking for revenge against City in Champions League quarters

Published April 9, 2024
VALDEBEBAS: Real Madrid players practise at the club’s training ground on Monday.—Reuters
VALDEBEBAS: Real Madrid players practise at the club’s training ground on Monday.—Reuters

LONDON: Real Madrid v Manchester City.

The all-time kings of Europe take on the current holders in the standout tie of the Champions League quarter-finals.

For the third year running Real and City meet in a match-up in which the winner has gone on to lift the trophy in the past two seasons. And it would be difficult to look beyond either team going on to continue that streak this time around.

City are still in contention for back-to-back trebles after winning the Premier League title, Cham­pions League and FA Cup last year.

Real, reinvigorated by the signing of Jude Bellingham last summer, are eight points clear at the top of La Liga and aiming for a record-extending 15th European Cup title.

The Spanish giants also have a point to prove after being routed 4-0 by City in the second leg of last year’s semi-finals.

Then it was City who had a score to settle, having suffered a late collapse at the Santiago Bernabeu to crash out in the semi-finals in 2022.

Manager Pep Guardiola will likely know how motivated Real will be to exact revenge — just as his players were last year — and that adds a subplot to a tie that is already heavy on intrigue.

Real host City at the Bernabeu on Tuesday in a mouthwatering first-leg clash and Real manager Carlo Ancelotti admitted he was rather anxious about facing the reigning champions for a third year running.

“I’m very nervous. The hours before the match, on a personal level,” Ancelotti told a news conference on Monday. “Is defeat suffering and victory, happiness? No, it’s really a relief. Because the days after are calmer. Suffering is part of the job, it keeps you alive, it’s fuel for me.

“It will be an attractive football match, each team has its own characteristics, with a lot of quality in both teams. This quality will make for a very nice match on a technical level.”

Elsewhere, Paris Saint-Germain versus Barcelona is another clash of heavyweights — the first leg of which will be played on Wedn­esday, with Kylian Mbappe aiming to finally lead the French champions to European club football’s elite trophy before walking away at the end of the season.

Premier League title-chasing Arsenal take on a Bayern Munich team that is limping towards the end of a miserable campaign in the Bundesliga on Tuesday, while Atletico Madrid face Borussia Dortmund a day later.

‘COURAGE AND PERSONALITY’

Real have all of their attacking players clicking.

Bellingham has struck 20 goals in 32 games this season, including four in the Champions League. Vinicius Junior is peaking just in time to face City with five goals in his last three appearances. Brahim Diaz provides a spark off the bench. And Rodyrgo ended a six-week scoring drought in Madrid’s last game, a 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao, to keep it on course for winning the domestic league title.

Real are on a 27-game unbeaten run at the Bernabeu across all competitions dating back to last April.

Ancelotti said his team played without courage or personality when City knocked them out of the Champions League last season and called on his players to show more mental strength this time around.

“We played without courage, without personality — courage and personality are fundamental in this type of game, we lacked them in the second leg,” Ancelotti said.

“The important thing is to be at our best, the mental aspect is very important. In terms of courage and personality, we’ve had time to prepare for the game, we’ve prepared very well, and I am confident that we will give our best and we’ve got the quality to compete.”

City have found their scoring form over the past week after hitting four goals in each of its games against Aston Villa and Crystal Palace to stay on the heels of title rivals Liverpool and Arsenal.

ENRIQUE REUNION

After a difficult start to his coaching career at PSG, when he had to put up with Mbappe’s bitter contract saga, Luis Enrique has steadily won over fans and the French media — even if it meant dropping Mbappe or taking him off in games.

Enrique won the treble as Barcelona coach in 2015 with Lionel Messi in his team and is still in contention to do the same at PSG with Mbappe.

Losing has become a distant memory for PSG, which is undefeated in 27 matches since a loss away to AC Milan in November during the Champions League group stage. But playing a rested Barcelona side could be the toughest test of the season.

Xavi Hernandez attempted to shock his team into getting its act together by saying he would quit at the end of the season, something that has coincided with a certain improvement.

Barca have gone unbeaten in 11 straight games since Xavi said in late January that he was renouncing the final year of his contract.

Robert Lewandowski, teenager Lamine Yamal and Raphinha are all playing well of late, but the midfield is a big question mark due to injury concerns.

TUCHEL TROUBLE

Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel wants to end a “frustrating” season, and his tenure, on a high with a trip to Wembley for the Champions League final. But their preparation for Arsenal could hardly have been worse after its latest defeat, this time to Heidenheim on Saturday after leading 2-0.

Two-time Champions League winner Thomas Mueller said his side could harness the frustration and unleash it on Tuesday.

“This result has me in fighting mode,” Mueller said. “Self-pity doesn’t help us at all. The resentment inside me is smiling again.”

The mood at Arsenal is very different with Mikel Arteta’s team looking better equipped to last the course in the race for the title this year after a late collapse last season.

The Champions League run feels like an unexpected bonus, but victory against Bayern will strengthen belief that a trophy double could be on.

“We are in a really good moment. We have the squad healthy, with a really good energy, with a lot of confidence individually and collectively,” Arteta said after Saturday’s Premier League win at Brighton & Hove Albion. “We just have to carry on doing what we’re doing.”

ATLETICO SLUMP

Atletico have slumped in recent weeks, with six losses and only four wins in their last 12 games overall, as they missed the goals and creativity of Antoine Griezmann. The France forward is now back playing and will be looking for his first goal since Jan 18.

Diego Simeone’s side were enjoying a 25-game unbeaten run at its Metropolitano Stadium until Barca delivered a 3-0 rout at Atletico on March 27.

Dortmund have generally saved their best for the Champions League this season but the Spanish side are the slight favorites and have an advantage of having 10 days without a game to prepare for the first leg at the Atletico’s Metropolitano Stadium.

“It’s better for us to have longer time to prepare for such an important game,” Atletico central defender Stefan Savic admitted in the El Mundo Deportivo newspaper. “I don’t know if it’s better or not that the first game is at home, because if you do a good job in the first leg, it’s difficult for your rival to overturn the result later. The big thing is that we are at home now.”

Champions League quarter-final first leg fixtures (all times GMT):

Tuesday: Real Madrid v Manchester City (1900), Arsenal v Bayern Munich (1900).

Wednesday: Paris St Germain v Barcelona (1900), Atletico Madrid v Borussia Dortmund (1900).

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2024

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