Madridistas, the time has come. Put away all your dart boards. Forget about the recent domestic hiccups. The “noche mágica” returns to the Santiago Bernabéu on Wednesday. These are the evenings are where Real Madrid feasts. No other European club takes Champions League as seriously as Real. Despite the mainstream media’s best efforts to pump their favouritism of our round-of-16 opponent Manchester City, there are two reasons why the scales should tip the other way:
There is a huge difference between continuing the same history and trying to make new history. Even though Manchester City has flipped the script in England, the team has never advanced to a Champions League Final. Moreover, their manager, Josep Guardiola, has been woeful in the biggest club tournament in Europe with losing three of the last four knockout rounds — logging only two road wins out of five since 2016. The pressure to win it all was cranked up another notch since UEFA recently banned Manchester City from the next two Champions League seasons due to Financial Fair Play violations from 2012 - 2016.
On the other side of the coin, the 13-time champions are not fazed by the bright lights. Under Zinedine Zidane, the team is a perfect 9-0 in knockout rounds and has won seven of the last nine knockout home games. If you think that former legendary players Cristiano Ronaldo and Keylor Navas were the reasons for that, keep in mind that the current roster still has 13 players from those runs and they contributed to a recent 21-game unbeaten streak this past winter. Nevertheless, the club expects to advance and Madridismo wants former Barcelona boss Guardiola to get eliminated. This is business AND personal.
Real Madrid rises to the occasion
The Champions League brings out the best in Real Madrid. They’ve scored 10 goals in the previous three home games. Not only that, the team shifts into an extra gear towards the end with 36% of their goals coming within the final 15 minutes. This is surprisingly contrary to Manchester City, who scored 50% of their goals between the 30th and 60th minute marks. The Citizens’ possession-happy system can be spell-binding and lethal to inferior rivals. However, they are going up against a team that has added youthful energy at key positions (ex. Ferland Mendy at left back and Federico Valverde at center midfield). If the back line of Mendy - Ramos - Varane - Carvajal neutralize the presumptive trio of Mahrez -Jesús - Sterling, the midfield will be able to provide offensive support for Karim Benzema, who is no stranger to scoring against European foes. All in all, it is how you finish a game that matters most.
First Leg Prediction: Real Madrid 2 Manchester City 1
- Christian Paredes (@Xian_D_Paredes) is a Founding Member and former Chairman (2012-2016) of La Peña Madridista Sur de California (@RmSurCalifornia)