MANCHESTER: Phil Foden (R) of Manchester City controls the ball next to Bernardo Silva during a training session at the Manchester City’s training ground on Tuesday.—AFP
MANCHESTER: Phil Foden (R) of Manchester City controls the ball next to Bernardo Silva during a training session at the Manchester City’s training ground on Tuesday.—AFP

MANCHESTER: Manchester City players are motivated by the possibility of winning an unprecedented second consecutive treble as they prepare to host Real Madrid on Wednesday with a place in the Champions League semi-finals at stake.

Last season, Pep Guardiola’s men became just the second club in English history to win the treble of Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup — 24 years after neighbours Manchester United achieved the feat.

As the finishing line of the 2023/24 season approaches, they are two points clear at the top of the Premier League with six games to go and face Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-finals this weekend.

City drew the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final with Real 3-3 at the Bernabeu ahead of the second leg at the Etihad, having overcome the 14-time European champions in the semi-finals last season on their way to winning the competition for the first time.

“Obviously, it is an inspiration and motivation,” City midfielder Bernando Silva told reporters on Tuesday. “We want to create the legacy. We want four Premier Leagues in a row. We want the Champions League twice in a row and two trebles in a row. In one week we could be out of all the competitions. But we are fighting.”

City are playing Real in the knockout stages of the Champions League for the third successive season.

After defeat in 2021/22, Guardiola’s side demolished the Spanish giants last season with a stunning 4-0 second-leg victory at the Etihad.

City’s result in the first leg is not as spectacular as it would have been in the era of away goals, but they are now favourites to make a fourth consecutive semi-final thanks to a fearsome record on home soil.

The holders have not lost in 30 Champions League games at the Etihad, dating back to 2018, and are unbeaten in 41 matches in all competitions at home since November 2022.

But Guardiola cautioned against dreaming too far ahead.

“I am not going to say ‘don’t feel this’ to my players, but I have a different opinion. We are far away from those hypothetical dreams,” Guardiola told reporters.

“When we are in the final of the FA Cup and two or three games [remaining] in the Premier League and in the final of the Champions League I will start to think about that. I started to think of the treble last season only when we beat Manchester United in the FA Cup final.”

Former Barcelona player and manager Guardiola said he relished once again facing old rivals Real, who have an eight-point lead at the top of the La Liga standings.

“Always has been and always will be [a big game],” he said. “It’s Real Madrid and in this competition it is always a big game. It’s special for me. Of course it is.”

ARSENAL SEEK TO SILENCE DOUBTERS

City’s Premier League rivals Arsenal, meanwhile, face a potentially season-defining Champions League clash against Bayern Munich on Wednesday as familiar doubts simmer over whether they can handle the pressure after their damaging defeat by Aston Villa.

Sunday’s 2-0 loss brought back uncomfortable memories for Mikel Arteta’s side, who led the way for most of last season before buckling in the home straight, allowing Manchester City to overtake them.

Long-suffering fans fear the worst again, with City now top of the pile once more and favourites to seal an unprecedented fourth straight top-flight title.

Until Sunday’s reverse, the Gunners had convinced many that they were the real deal, adding grit to style as they went on a rampaging run of 10 wins in 11 Premier League matches.

Now Arsenal, who have never won the Champions League, travel to the home of Bayern with little time to lick their wounds, targeting their first semi-final in the competition since 2009 after last week’s first leg at the Emirates ended 2-2.

Bayern have a slight edge over Arsenal given their rich history in the competition, but they still have to be at their best to beat them, coach Thomas Tuchel said on the eve of the second leg.

Bayern have not gone beyond the quarters since winning their sixth European Cup in 2020 and the pressure will be on Tuchel’s team at the Allianz Arena as Europe is their only chance of redemption in a season where they have been dethroned as German champions by Bayer Leverkusen.

“We have a slight advantage when you look at our experience in this competition. But to turn it into a real advantage, you also need a top performance. We’re ready to give it everything we’ve got,” Tuchel told reporters on Tuesday.

“We’ll need everything again. We’ll need passion and the same tactical discipline as in the first leg. We really want to win this game. It’ll be extremely important that every fan comes to support and push us.”

Bayern are staring at a first trophyless season since 2012 but striker Harry Kane believes his side still have a chance of a “great season” by winning the Champions League.

“It’s no secret here that the club sets out to win the Champions League every season,” the 30-year-old told reporters. “You know, from the club’s point of view, it will be a failed season if we don’t win anything this year because we’re expected to win. We still have the opportunity to turn the season into a great season if we win the Champions League.”

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2024

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