When the referee whistles for the kick-off at the Etihad Stadium today in Manchester, the world will witness a classic battle between two financial superpowers of global football; 10-time European champions Real Madrid and Champions League’s new boys Manchester City.
While City may have recently discovered their ambition to compete at the highest level, Real have treated the competition as their own since the glory days of the 50s; when they won the tournament’s first five titles on the trot to forever embed their name in history.
Since then, Real have gone on to win five more titles with the most recent coming in 2013-14 when they snatched the win from cross-town rivals Atletico’s mouths. In the dying minutes of normal time, Sergio Ramos headed home the equaliser and Angel di Maria then inspired a 4-1 rout to leave many hearts broken in the red and white part of Madrid.
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City, on the other hand, are making their first-ever Champions League semi-final appearance.
Their previous forays into the knockout stages of Europe’s premier competition were ended by Barcelona when the Catalans registered 4-1 and 3-1 aggregate wins in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons respectively.
City know the task at hand is not an easy one, but the desire to reach the final and continue this record-breaking run burns bright.
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“It’s a hard battle to get to this stage. If we can play at the level we’re capable of, then it will be a fair game,” said City captain Vincent Kompany in his pre-match press conference. “I think that there’s a good plan behind the scenes. We have progressed every single year and that’s one thing I’m most proud of.”
Kompany is also counting on the form of City and Belgium teammate Kevin de Bruyne — who has been instrumental in City’s Champions League campaign and scored in both legs against Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals — and the home crowd.
“I hope De Bruyne plays the best game of his career. He causes problems,” said Kompany. “We play against one of the greatest clubs of all-time. Our support today will be able to make the difference.”
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Meanwhile, Real left-back Marcelo claimed the Spanish giants will do everything in their power to take a favourable result for the second leg. “We’re going to go out to win, just as we always do,” he said. “We are going to try and not concede, because that’ll be important ahead of the second game. This is a massive game and everyone will be watching.”
Having lost out in the Premier League title race to unlikely rivals Leicester City and Tottenham, departing City manager Manuel Pellegrini, who will be replaced by Pep Guardiola in the summer, will be looking to end his City career on a high and what better way to do it than knocking out his former employers.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2016.
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