It’s not an exaggeration to suggest this is the biggest game in Manchester City’s recent history. With the Premier League title all but wrapped up after Arsenal’s defeat to Brighton at the weekend, and a FA Cup final against Manchester United – where City will be heavy favourites – Real Madrid stand between them and the chance of going for an historic treble. Granted, Inter Milan will be no pushovers in the final should they overcome rivals AC Milan in the other semi-final, but Pep Guardiola’s team are sure to be overwhelming favourites in that final too, should they get there.
But this is the Champions League. And this is Real Madrid, a side that thrive in knockout competition. So much so that it can sometimes feel like they can channel black magic to drag themselves out of desperate situations.
We’ve been here before, too. As recently as last year, where these two sides met in the semi-final and Rodrygo’s injury-time brace took the tie into extra time. From that point on, Karim Benzema’s winning penalty seemed inevitable.
It was the second time that City had been eliminated from a UCL semi-final, after Real Madrid inflicted the same pain on them in 2015-16. Should they fail to progress here, it would be the first time that a team have been eliminated by the same side in the semi-finals in consecutive UEFA Champions League campaigns.
But there is one crucial difference from the trauma of Madrid last year. The second leg of this tie is at the Etihad Stadium, and Man City have made their home ground somewhat of a fortress in recent European competitions.
They are unbeaten in their last 25 home games in the Champions League (W23 D2), with Lyon in September 2018 the last away side to win there. Only two teams in the history of the competition have had a longer unbeaten home run: 38 games for Barcelona (2013-2020) and 29 games for Bayern Munich (1998-2002).
For their part, Real Madrid are winless in their previous four away games against Manchester City in the Champions League (D2 L2), losing each of the last two. The only team they have faced more times away from home in the European Cup/UEFA Champions League without ever winning is Milan (seven games – D2 L5).