Mark O’Haire’s Champions League Tips – Manchester City v Real Madrid
It’s been 10 years since Manuel Pellegrini led Villarreal to the Champions League semi-finals.
The Yellow Submarine were a kick away from reaching the final but the legendary Juan Roman Riquelme saw his penalty saved by Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann and the dream died.
Now Pellegrini has a second stab at reaching European club football’s pinnacle with two dates against former employers that could define his stint at the Etihad. Manchester City are in unchartered continental territory and they’re not ready to relinquish their position at the final-four stage.
The Capital One Cup winners arrive at Tuesday night’s tussle in decent nick having picked up W5-D2-L0 during April, including four wins from five unbeaten Premier League games. Stoke were seen off comfortably on Saturday and the Citizens have an almost fully fit squad to select from.
The upturn in form has coincided with Kevin De Bruyne and Vincent Kompany’s return to fitness whilst on Saturday Pellegrini was able to withdraw David Silva and Sergio Aguero before the hour mark, with this match in mind.
De Bruyne has understandably hit the headlines for his outstanding contribution but Argentine hitman Aguero has also found his stride once more, notching 22 goals in his past 21 league appearances, as well as grabbing eight goals in 10 Etihad outings since mid-January.
City (48.6%) are the only side left in the competition with an average possession figure lower than 50% and their success over the two legs is likely to come down to their efficiency in front of goal on the counter-attack, not too dissimilar to their quarter-final tie with PSG.
Both sides share defensive flaws but City’s full, fit and fresh squad will be aware both Roma and Wolfsburg could and should have taken Madrid out and therefore a clinical edge going forward is crucial to their prospects.
But history is also on the Citizens’ side.
Since 2013/14, Man City have W6-D2-L5 when welcoming Champions League opposition – the defeats coming against Barcelona (x2), Juventus, Bayern Munich and CSKA Moscow. Four of the five losses came against European heavyweights and whilst Real fall into this category, the trends certainly aren’t in Los Blancos’ favour.
In semi-final first legs since 2006/07, the home side has W12-D4-L2, progressing to the final in each of the most recent eight semi-finals and delivering a first leg victory in seven of those encounters. Madrid have travelled away at this stage in three of the last four years and were defeated on each occasion.
Visiting head coach Zinedine Zidane admitted the Spaniards were fortunate to still be in the competition after sloppy performances against Roma and Wolfsburg and the La Liga outfit were made to work in their derby clash with Rayo Vallecano on Saturday too – trailing 2-0 after 14 minutes, Madrid scored the winner just eight minutes from time.
Cristiano Ronaldo was given the weekend off to recover from a minor injury scare but Karim Benzema limped off in the first-half at Rayo and is now rated doubtful. Whilst I expect CR7 to be near enough at full throttle, losing Benzema would be a big blow for the guests, despite Gareth Bale’s timely return.
Still, the visitors are involved in the semi-finals of the Champions League for the sixth successive season – and 27th overall – and have churned out five wins on the spin. Real’s W11-D3-L3 road record in Europe since 2013/14 is impressive but it drops dramatically when looking at knockout football.
Over the past four campaigns, Madrid have W6-D2-L6 on their Champions League knockout travels and that record drops to just W2-D3-L10 over the past 10 years when Los Blancos’ backline has been breached on the continent. It’s far from ideal when inspecting the 10-time European champions’ defensive efforts.
The stats say Real have kept eight shutouts across their 10 Champions League fixtures this season but it masks their less-than-impressive clean sheet return during recent months. The visitors have managed just two clean sheets in 17 away dates with the likes of Wolfsburg, Getafe and Rayo racking up five goals in Madrid’s last three on the road.
I’d normally be rushing to back Real at odds-against quotes here but their inconsistencies when playing away is enough to completely swerve the Spaniards and…
so it’s the 21/20 on Man City in the Draw No Bet market that makes most appeal.
Goals should of course be on the agenda. City have kept their own sheets clean in just eight of their 26 Etihad outings this season and with Los Blancos smashing 46 goals in during their 23 away fixtures this season, they’ll fancy their chances at adding to that tally.
But semi-final first legs rarely produce goal-heavy thrillers and the prices just don’t represent enough value to get involved in either the Both Teams To Score nor Over 2.5 Goals markets. So I’ll keep it simple and hope the Sky Blues can make a far from infallible Madrid pay on the counter on Tuesday.
Manchester City Draw No Bet (21/20)
*Prices correct at time of publication.