Two of the best attacking teams in Europe (Real Madrid and Manchester City) face off in the Champions League semifinals this week, with City’s record-seeking Erling Haaland going against Real’s red-hot trio of Vinícius Júnior, Rodrygo and Karim Benzema.
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Tuesday’s first leg at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium will be a rematch of last year’s semifinal, when Madrid got the better of a City team that didn’t have Haaland. City fell short of European success yet again, while Madrid went on to win a record-extending 14th title.
The addition of Haaland could be the difference-maker for Pep Guardiola’s team. The Norwegian has 12 of City’s 26 goals in the league this season. He is five short of Cristiano Ronaldo’s single-season record of 17 for Madrid in 2013-14.
“If you have a player like Haaland, you have to take advantage,” Guardiola said Monday. “We will play for him. When we didn’t have him we had to play differently. Now we have to take advantage of having a player like him.”
With the Copa title secured and La Liga out of reach, Madrid can fully focus on the matchup against City.
City enters the semifinals still in the middle of a tight title race in England. Guardiola had to play some of his top players — including Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne — for the full 90 minutes on Saturday in a 2-1 win over Leeds.
Madrid eliminated two other English clubs in the Champions League — Liverpool in the round of 16 and Chelsea in the quarterfinals. City advanced past Leipzig in the last 16 and Bayern Munich in the last eight.
Madrid is making its 11th semifinal appearance in 13 seasons and is trying to win its sixth title in 10 seasons.
City played in its first Champions League final two seasons ago, losing to Chelsea.
‘We were prepared last year, too. We are the same manager, mainly the same players but completely different games. The difference is the second leg is at home,” Guardiola said. “The way we are playing is really good. We are not here for revenge, just another opportunity. One day we will win it. We come here this season to do it.”