Real Madrid are ‘kings of Europe’ as Man City and Guardiola prepare to face more than just Zidane’s players

James Robson, Ban Hayward
·5-min read
Getty Images
Getty Images

Pep Guardiola comes face to face with the “kings” of Europe tonight, knowing Manchester City will have to overcome much more than the players Zinedine Zidane sends out at the Etihad.

It is the aura that follows Real Madrid and the sheer weight of history that is stacked against Man City in the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie.

As such, victory will be far more symbolic than simply the result of one game of football.

It will perhaps be the final frontier in Guardiola’s mission to convince City they belong among Europe’s elite.

Rodri summed it up perfectly.

In his mind, even Real’s Galacticos cannot compare to the quality Guardiola has to call upon. Yet the legend of the Spanish champions and that famous white shirt make it more than just a battle between 22 players on the pitch.

“They are more than a team,” said the midfielder. “They have that way of playing where you can never relax even if you are winning 3 or 4-0. They always come back and have that huge personality to become the champions they have been.

“It is the biggest team in this competition and they show that to the world. But now football has changed a little bit - it is so competitive the distances between teams are so narrow.

“I know we have the better team, but we have to show it on the pitch.

Photo: AFP via Getty Images
Photo: AFP via Getty Images

“I think we have got a better team, but words are worthless if you can’t generate that on the field.

“We’ve got to match Real Madrid on what they may have that is better than us and that is experience in these games.”

Guardiola has long believed City’s sheer lack of experience has cost them in Europe’s premier competition.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Too often they have been caught in the headlights at critical moments, allowing themselves to be blown away by Monaco, Liverpool and Tottenham in his three previous Champions League campaigns at the club.

Victory in Madrid in February – coming from a goal behind – felt like a seminal moment for a club that has often seemed like it suffered an inferiority complex on such occasions

Now it is a case of getting the job done and avoiding the meltdowns that have cost them in the past.

Guardiola said: “More than conceding goals it’s the way we are conceding them. When they are brilliant, and an opponent makes a good action, we accept it.

“But most of the goals we could avoid, and we have to avoid it. Making mistakes like that in this competition punishes you a lot. We know it.

“We’ve spoken about that not just now, in these last few weeks, but for years, many times, in important games like this.

“We know it and if we want to make a step forward as a team to be close to winning this competition we have to be better in this area.”

Real Madrid, of course, know all about winning the competition.

How we think the teams will line up

Man City XI (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Fernandinho, Laporte, Zinchenko; Gundogan, Rodri, Silva; Jesus, De Bruyne, Sterling

Real Madrid XI (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Varane, Mendy; Valverde, Casemiro, Kroos; Asensio, Benzema, Hazard

Zidane has never not won it in his short coaching career, having led Los Blancos to three straight titles between 2016 and 2018.

But that impeccable record is on the line in Manchester and in order to advance to the final phase in Lisbon, Madrid will need one of their memorable European nights.

Many of those have come away from home, with wins at Bayern Munich, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax in recent seasons.

All but one, including the 4-0 thrashing of Guardiola’s Bayern at the Allianz Arena in 2014, were achieved with Cristiano Ronaldo in the team and Madrid still have not replaced the prolific Portuguese.

Their captain, Sergio Ramos, is also out suspended after his red card in the first leg, while Gareth Bale - scorer of three Champions League final goals for Real – has been left out of the squad . How Guardiola would like to call upon that level of experience.

Photo: AFP via Getty Images
Photo: AFP via Getty Images

Real’s recent triumph in LaLiga was built on defensive stability more than attacking flair, but tonight, they will need both.

“We have a disadvantage,” Zidane said. “We know that. A tie is never finished until the last moment. We know what we have to do on the pitch.

“We have a good team and we have our weapons. We have to think about advancing to the final phase.”

Anything less would be seen as a failure for the 13-time winners, even if some of the pressure is off after their LaLiga title

This Real side is less scary than it was in Zidane’s first spell, yet the aura remains, and that looks like the main obstacle for City to overcome tonight.

But Madrid are also a different team to the one City beat in February, having racked up 10 consecutive wins following the break to claim the title, before a 2-2 draw at Leganes on the final day with the league already won.

“The context is totally different,” Raphael Varane said. “We were able to rest in that strange period.

“We also worked individually to be improve physically and be able to play every three days after a long break.

Photo: REUTERS
Photo: REUTERS

“The professionalism and attitude of the players has been really good.”

For Zidane's side, it is a chance to prove in his first full season back they they are still the “kings of Europe”, as Guardiola said and as their fans so often sing at the Bernabeu.

Beating City and an old foe in Pep would be the ideal start and if they can, the new format should suit them in their search for a 14th European Cup.

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