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The confidence, cheek and panache to produce a panenka penalty in the semi-finals of the Champions League typified the barnstorming season Karim Benzema is currently enjoying for the newly-crowned La Liga champions, who were indebted to their two star forwards at the Etihad in the first leg.
Benzema’s brace either side of Vinicius Junior‘s dazzling run and finish has kept the tie alive for a Real side whose defence was also breached at will by the Citizens, who struck four times themselves through Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Jesus, Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden on the night.
Carlo Ancelotti‘s side quickly dusted off their shooting boots to hit Espanyol for four without reply and confirm their status as La Liga champions with four games to spare at the weekend, and a domestic and European double would certainly send a reminder to the footballing world of their long-standing continental dominance.
While Los Blancos overturned a one goal deficit to dump Paris Saint-Germain out of the tournament in this season’s last-16 stage, the capital outfit have never made it through to the final when losing the first leg of a semi-final, and history cannot repeat itself if a 14th European crown is to remain on the agenda.
It has been less than a month since an English team last came up trumps on the Bernabeu turf, although Chelsea’s thrilling 3-2 win proved inconsequential in the end, and not since December 2018 have Real Madrid failed to score at home in the Champions League – a streak which is unlikely to end even against the most resilient of City backlines.
Real Madrid boss Ancelotti took a risk rushing David Alaba back for the first leg following his injury woes, and the Austrian was taken off at half time at the Etihad and subsequently missed the title-clinching win over Espanyol alongside Eden Hazard, Gareth Bale and Luka Jovic – the latter of whom is now back.
Alaba has made the squad for the second leg but may only make the bench having not trained yet, while Eder Militao and Nacho Fernandez will also return from domestic suspensions to form a strong Blancos rearguard. Isco has also missed out on a place in the squad due to illness.
The likes of Benzema, Vinicius, Toni Kroos and Ferland Mendy were all benched at the weekend with this encounter in mind, and Rodrygo will hope to keep his place in the final third after starting in the first leg and bagging a brace against Espanyol.
As far as Man City are concerned, Guardiola will welcome Joao Cancelo back with open arms following his first-leg suspension, and Kyle Walker will travel with the group despite his ankle injury.
Nathan Ake trudged off with a knock in the win over Leeds and will need to be assessed, and John Stones is also absent, so it could be another restless evening for Oleksandr Zinchenko on the left of the City defence.
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De Bruyne, Silva and Riyad Mahrez are all primed to return to the first XI after being named among the substitutes at Elland Road, while Real’s nemesis Gabriel Jesus prepares to spearhead the charge amid his hot streak of goalscoring form.
Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Nacho, Mendy; Kroos, Casemiro, Modric; Rodrygo, Benzema, Vinicius Jr
Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Cancelo, Dias, Laporte, Zinchenko; Silva, Rodri, De Bruyne; Mahrez, Jesus, Foden