UEFA Champions League
European masters Madrid threaten Man City’s treble dream
Manchester City’s bid for a historic treble faces the ultimate challenge on Wednesday as Real Madrid visit the Etihad aiming for the chance to retain their UEFA Champions League crown.
City are four wins away from matching Manchester United’s class of 1998/99 as the only side to win the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup in the same season.
Just three points from their final three league games will secure a fifth title in six seasons for Pep Guardiola’s men and United await in a first ever Manchester derby in the FA Cup final on 3 June.
But Madrid pose the biggest obstacle, just as they did at the semi-final stage 12 months ago, as they stand in City’s way of reaching the final in Istanbul and conquering Europe.
Back then Carlo Ancelotti’s men produced a stunning fightback from two goals down in the closing seconds at the Santiago Bernabeu.
But crucially the English champions have home advantage this time for the decisive second leg as they bid to join Inter Milan in the final.
Despite the City fanbase taking time to warm to the Champions League, Guardiola’s side have turned the Etihad into an almost impenetrable fortress.
City have not lost at home in Europe for five years, winning 23 and drawing just two of their 25 Champions League games since.
This year they have won all 14 home games in all competitions.
“It’s 1-1 and we are at the Etihad where we’ve been more than confident in the Champions League to get a result,” said City defender Kyle Walker. “Hopefully we do that again.”
By contrast to City’s quest to translate their domestic dominance onto the European stage, Madrid have once again saved their best this season for the Champions League.
‘We feel comfortable’
Barcelona have already been crowned La Liga champions, leaving Real with just three league titles in the past 11 years.
But while domestic success has been modest by Real’s lofty standards, many of the current squad have picked up five Champions League winner’s medals in the last decade.
“We always feel comfortable in these type of games,” said Madrid midfielder Luka Modric.
“We know that in the Champions League we always perform well because it is a competition that we love. We feel at home playing these games.
“It is for that reason we have won so many Champions Leagues because we have the belief in ourselves and we believe in our quality.”
Madrid have already eliminated two Premier League sides, Liverpool and Chelsea, en route to the last four.
But City are a different beast and the visitors will do well to keep 52-goal striker Erling Haaland as quiet as the Norwegian was in the first leg.
“Madrid and City are in this moment the best teams in Europe,” said Ancelotti.
The stakes appear even higher than normal at the semi-final stage with the victors strong favourites to become European champions next month.
Inter Milan overcame local rivals AC Milan to reach their first final in 13 years.
But the Nerazzurri sit 17 points adrift of Serie A winners Napoli and cannot match either City or Madrid for star quality.