Don’t drop your drink this week as the new kids take on two of the biggest clubs in European football
Manchester City vs Real Madrid on Tuesday
The hundreds of millions of pounds of investment, gilt-edged player purchases and years of patience have finally paid off for Manchester City.
Last week, the pimpled cousins of the more glamorous Manchester United finally joined the exclusive set of Europe’s elite clubs by reaching the Uefa Champions League semifinals. And they did it in fine fashion by arrogantly elbowing out Paris Saint German.
What made this entry sweeter is that, back home, their sexier cousins are stuck outside the top four in the domestic league and risk missing out on the Champions League next year.
While their neighbours watch glumly from the comfort of their couches on Tuesday, City will face the emperors of European football – 10-time winners Real Madrid. Before this week, few would have fancied this clash as being as mouthwatering as it now seems.
With Manchester City not having had a season that lived up to standard and Madrid finding its rhythm under Zinedine Zidane, this tie is spiced up by the big-name players in the respective line-ups.
The manner in which they dealt with their quarterfinal opponents has set up a date worth looking forward to. Madrid went into the second leg at home having gone down 2-0 to unfancied Wolfsburg and, given the underdogs’ determination to cause an unbelievable upset, many were betting against a comeback by the Spaniards.
But the Madrid players delivered an 8/10 team performance. The hat-trick from a rekindled Cristiano Ronaldo – complete with a free kick that sneaked in through a tiny crack in the Wolfsburg wall – may have grabbed the headlines, but the totality of the teamwork showed Zidane was not just using his half-season tenure as a warm-up stint.
A betting man would fancy the chances of Madrid edging past the debutants if they reproduce the teamwork they did against the Germans. City fans will argue that they can never be compared to Wolfsburg, who many believe were fortunate to finish as runners-up to Bayern Munich last season.
With captain Vincent Kompany back from injury, Yaya Touré fit again for selection and Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Agüero as sharp as ever, City fans are feeling they are not just there to take up the space of a more fancied semifinalist.
The Real Madrid that will turn up at the Etihad is a far cry from the disjointed and low-spirited side Rafael Benitez presided over earlier in the season. They have been banging in goals, reading each other nicely in the middle and have, of late, been miserly at the back.
This has seen them reverse their pedestrian La Liga season – where they were miles behind Barcelona and Atlético Madrid – to coming within a point of the log-leading duo. Suddenly the chance of a double is within the realms of possibility.
The only concern on Zidane’s mind going into Tuesday is Ronaldo’s recovery. He had a groin injury in La Liga action this week. Otherwise he should be assured that the City fans who are forking out up to £1 300 (R26 971) for Tuesday’s tickets will regret their foolishness come the final whistle.
Atlético Madrid vs Bayern Munich on Wednesday
This is going to be the battle of two men who are among the most exciting coaches in Europe at the moment.
Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola already has two Champions League titles under his belt, delivered during his illustrous tenure at Barcelona. Atlético Madrid’s Diego Simeone came close to hoisting the trophy in 2014 – if not for a 93rd-minute equaliser that forced the final clash with neighbours Real into extra time. The 4-1 final score in favour of Real was a case of so near, yet so very, very far for him.
The two meet in a game in which Simeone, who has put the less cash-flush Atlético on an equal footing with the rich boys of La Liga, wants that badge that shows he is among the best in the trade.
Guardiola is on a mission to become one of the rare species to have won the trophy with different teams and in different leagues. Should his team power past Atlético and whoever else, he will have the chance to make it three teams in three leagues during his tenure at Manchester City, which he joins next season.
If for some reason you miss the Tuesday game, don’t fret. This one is the tastier of the two clashes, featuring two hard-working teams who do not know how to spell the word ‘dry’.
While Guardiola has kept his possession-based Barcelona philosophy, he adapted his tactics to fit the grafting Bundesliga style. Over at Atlético, Simeone’s men purposefully run their opponents out of breath and employ very fluid passing moving forward.
It is always difficult to pick out the individual match winners in these teams, as they both operate as intimate units. On the day, a lot will depend on which of the coaches is the more astute tactician and hungrier man.