Football UCL

Manchester City start as the favourite against Real Madrid

With several aggressive thuds of the dressing room door, Manchester City were told they did not belong.

The saga continues…👀💫#ManCity | #UCL

— Manchester City (@ManCity) April 26, 2022

‘F*** you, City. F*** you, Mancini,’ boomed a voice through the Bernabeu walls, emanating from an excitably pumped Jose Mourinho.

Real Madrid had beaten them 3-2 in a group stage game, coming up for a decade ago.

And it really would have been – Mourinho’s outburst not only a tempestuous shot across the bows but also conveyed a sense of relief.

City were the pretenders, derided for largesse in the transfer market, just playing at tussling with the elite. Not seen as particularly serious by the characters who mattered.

The elite were not overly fond of their presence – still aren’t, to a lesser degree – and ceding any ground to this new money was deemed weak.

Now, though, City head into tonight’s semi-final as slight favourites to reach consecutive finals.

That they are is an inescapable fact, despite the two club’s differing legacies on the continent.

‘If we have to compete with history we don’t have any chance – they are better,’ Pep Guardiola said. ‘The history speaks for itself. But we have the desire to compete against them.

🌟 #UCL READY! 🌟#ManCity

— Manchester City (@ManCity) April 26, 2022

‘Tomorrow we play 11 v 11, one ball is on the pitch and the players will decide. We are playing against players who have been in this position many, many times and beyond, reaching finals and winning.

‘They have these kinds of things and maybe still we don’t have it, but there are other issues and maybe we will have those and they don’t.’

The history is thus: Real have lifted Ol’ Big Ears on 13 occasions. City, zero. This is Real’s 31st semi-final. City’s third. Guardiola has previously labelled Real as Europe’s ‘kings’ with good reason.

‘I’ve started to expect to be here,’ Guardiola added. ‘At the same time, I’ll never underestimate what we’ve done in being here. Never ever. It’s an honour.

‘To get here two times in a row is so good. There are many, many good teams not here and one year we won’t because it’s so demanding. We have to be so precise.

Ruthless Raz against Real! 🙌#ManCity

— Manchester City (@ManCity) April 25, 2022

‘That’s why I said to the players enjoy the moment, prepare for the game. You never know, it could be once in a lifetime, nobody knows. You must enjoy it and what I want is for us to be ourselves.’

Yesterday, Guardiola cut out the jokes that have become prevalent in his recent media outings.

At this juncture, there is little point in feigning absolute tranquillity when everything is on the line. Nervous energy.

He gave short shrift to questions on Real’s style, the role of his allegiance to Barcelona and the expected arrival of Erling Haaland. One-line rebuffs rather than one-line zingers.

Getting ready to face Real 💪#ManCity #UCL

— Manchester City (@ManCity) April 25, 2022

But he was far clearer, more expansive, on the big picture at City. How a heavy dose of his remit since 2016 has been to create a culture of constantly cementing places in the latter stages of this competition, while mindful that he will be judged on whether he wins the whole lot.

Both of those are still live projects, the result of them is still not definitive.

‘At the big clubs, when you win, you take a shower and at that moment you are thinking to win again,’ he said.

‘It’s a culture and we are learning that. I felt that in Barcelona and here we are trying to build that culture where we have to win every game and fight every game.

‘Personally, as a manager, my (mission) will never be accomplished. I’ll have another dream or target to reach.

.@sterling7‘s thoughts on the #UCL 👇#ManCity

— Manchester City (@ManCity) April 25, 2022

‘When it [my time] is over, everyone can say if it’s good or bad, accomplished or unaccomplished, success or failure. It’s up to you, it’s not a problem.’

Problems do exist within his team now though. Neither Kyle Walker nor John Stones were out on the pitch during the 15 minutes of training open to the media, with the pair missing last weekend’s 5-1 victory over Watford.

Guardiola was at pains to say he will give any of those injured the time to prove their fitness and if there was ever an occasion to risk fitness, it is this.

But assuming Walker and Stones are indeed out, then there is a selection headache. Joao Cancelo is suspended, leaving City without an available senior right back.

Fernandinho could be used but the youthful pace of Vinicius Junior, Real’s most dangerous outlet, puts paid to that idea.

Oleksandr Zinchenko and Nathan Ake might be expected to fill the role instead, while the last time Guardiola operated a back three in Europe was that fateful night against Lyon.

‘I would say the two games against Sporting and the first leg against Atletico, we played well to not concede goals,’ Guardiola said.

‘But the second game against Madrid we could have conceded goals. We’ll have to defend well. When we suffer we want to stick together.’

They will have to against the ridiculously prolific Benzema, one of the key components that led to Mourinho’s eruption all those years ago.

Note: This article is written by Jack Gaughan and has been published at Daily Mail UK