The UEFA Champions League has never failed to generate tension-soaked atmosphere, notably in the knockout phase, when ‘men’ have been separated from the ‘boys’.
The conclusion of the quarter-final matches has again served up on the plates mouthwatering clashes. Nothing should be taken away from Samuel Chukwueze’s Villarreal, who entered the competition this year for winning last season’s Europa League title and have now sent packing European giants; Juventus and Bayern Munich, to set up a semi-final tie with Liverpool. But the eye of the world will be fixed on Manchester City and Real Madrid.
The latter fixture will by a mile give more chilly, frosty, scintillating and above all, a tactical warfare between Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola, whose masterclass again got one over Atletico’s Diego Simeone in the two legs of the last eight.
The cumulative earning for the winner of the 2021/21 season is €69.8million, but big clubs consider the price money as secondary. The prestige and glory that comes with winning the competition is far more satisfying for them, especially the ones can afford to acquire a player for £100million.
One of such clubs is City. Since Sheikh Mansour took over the club in September 2008, the focus has been to win titles and bring successes to the club; an ambition that lured Guardiola to England since 2016, on the backdrop of his heroics in the competition at Barcelona. All domestic competitions have been conquered, but European success remains elusive for the billionaire club, of which the Spaniard has submitted that he’ll be a “failure” if he fails to deliver the UCL before he bows out.
The 51-year-old has not had it easy in Europe as it is in England since he left Bayern for the Etihad six years ago. He has won the EFL Cup this season, his side sit at the top of the Premier League, will face Liverpool in the semi-final of the FA Cup this weekend, but he will trade all those for the Champions League this season.
The closest he has come to winning it was last season when he lost 1-0 to Chelsea in the final at the Estadio do Dragao in Porto. The Champions League is a competition for the best European clubs, and you have to beat the best to be the king of Europe.
City and Real have met four times in the competition in the past. Both sides won two matches and settled for draws on two occasions.
The recent encounter between them was in the 2019/20 season when Guardiola got the better of Zinedine Zidane 4-2 on aggregate in the Round of 16.
But the Cityzens have a huge mountain to climb this time. Not because they are facing the Los Blancos in the semis, but Real coach, Carlo Ancelotti, who has won the competition three times; twice with AC Milan and once with his current employers in 2014.
Experience worked for the 62-year-old ‘paramount ruler’ against Paris Saint-German and Chelsea in this year’s last 16 and quarter-finals respectively. The Italian will be looking to win the 14th title for Real, while Guardiola is seeking to put City’s name among the 22 winners of the giant trophy.
What is certain is, the former Bayern Munich manager, with his profound tactical ingenuity, must know he is coming against a colossal manager as his side seeks their second final in two years.
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Ashaolu Olufemi is a graduate of mass communication from Kaduna Polytechnic, and also a member of NIPR. His love for media and writing has become stronger with experience over the years.