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Three talking points ahead of Manchester City vs Real Madrid

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Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The big Champions League nights seldom disappoint, and the first-leg quarterfinal results last week in this year’s edition were no different.

The four games cumulatively saw 18 goals scored, none of which were overwhelmingly convincing, thus leaving the ground level ahead of the decisive second legs.

Of the four fixtures that unfolded last week, the clash between Real Madrid and Manchester City was the most entertaining, by far.

An enthralling 3-3 draw saw both Los Blancos and Pep Guardiola’s men pull off mini-comebacks on the night before they eventually split the spoils and left everything to be decided at the Etihad Stadium.

Tomorrow, the two European giants face off again in Manchester in a game that will grant the victor a spot in the semifinal of this season’s Champions League.

Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Manchester City vs Real Madrid.

New year, new team

As Real Madrid head to the Etihad to take part in the decisive second leg, they invariably confront some horrific memories at the arena.

For starters, the men in white have never beaten Manchester City at the Etihad in an official game. Of the teams’ last three meetings at the venue over the past four years, City have always come out on top at home.

Los Blancos’ most recent recollection of the venue does not help in any way either. After all, they headed to England last season after a draw in the first leg at home, only to be destroyed by a 4-0 margin by Pep Guardiola’s men.

Fast forward one year, the Spanish giants once again failed to secure an advantage in the home fixture. To qualify for the semifinal, they must not only conquer the Etihad’s curse but also get past the ghosts of last year.

A lot has changed in Carlo Ancelotti’s setup since the two sides last met. Karim Benema’s departure, Jude Bellingham’s arrival, and the rise of new stars in goal and defence are just some of the innumerable variations that have grown into the Madrid-based entity.

Ancelotti’s primary goal tomorrow, thus, should be to keep the morale and belief of his men high. It is a new year, a new team, and history plays no part in how the game plays out.

The defensive situation

Rudiger and Nacho likely to start in defence. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty Images)

Ancelotti was faced with a defensive dilemma ahead of Real Madrid’s first leg last week. Of the available options, he opted to go with Aurelien Tchouameni to partner Antonio Rudiger, purely because of the Frenchman’s prowess in aerial duels.

While Tchouameni did do a good job, he is suspended for tomorrow’s clash leaving the Italian coach in a tricky situation in defence.

His Plan B, Eder Militao, is not fit enough to start, and everything indicates that Nacho will be the player to start alongside the German.

Tomorrow’s game at Etihad will be a personal battle for Rudiger, for he was dropped the last time Real Madrid played at the venue and watched his team’s destruction from the sidelines.

Now arriving as the leader of defence, he will make it his objective to prove that Ancelotti’s decision to drop him a year ago was costly. After all, he has efficiently defended against Erling Haaland in all his meetings with the Norwegian.

An equal share of the spotlight will shine on Nacho, whose aerial ability will be tested, and Ferland Mendy, who suffered against Bernardo Silva a week ago.

Clarity in approach

Real Madrid differ from other top European clubs in one primary respect. Unlike the goal of competitors to play a beautiful game, dominate the proceedings and assert authority, Los Blancos purely concern themselves with the result.

Be it ugly or an exquisitely crafted display, the win and qualification are all that Ancelotti aims for. The aforementioned approach has largely pioneered the team’s success over the years.

Heading into tomorrow’s clash, it is thus imperative that Real Madrid have the right idea of what to expect.

It will be close to impossible to dominate proceedings against a well-oiled Pep Guardiola team, nor will it be simple to boast of possession. As such, the Merengues will likely be forced to defend deep for large parts of the game.

What will be critical, however, are the few chances they get on the counter-attack. The likes of Vinicius Jr., Rodrygo Goes, Jude Bellingham and Federico Valverde will be crucial if the team is to hit on the break with efficiency, and their form will account for a large part of the result.

The goal tomorrow, thus, must not be to dominate the game but purely to walk out victors. It might not turn out to be beautiful, but will surely be memorable should it work out.

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Three talking points ahead of Villarreal vs Real Madrid

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Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images

Jude Bellingham, Vinicius Jr, Federico Valverde and Arda Guler were all on target when Real Madrid demolished Deportivo Alaves by a 5-0 scoreline midweek.

The win at the Santiago Bernabeu took the team to 93 points in La Liga, with the champion status already earned. The target now, however, is to reach the magical number of 99 points.

Tomorrow, Los Blancos step on the field for their penultimate league clash of the season as they lock horns against Villarreal.

Their opponents, currently placed eighth in the league, are fighting for a place in Europe and must win tomorrow at Estadio de La Ceramica if they are to remain in the race.

Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Villarreal vs Real Madrid.

Can Bellingham maintain the steam?

Jude Bellingham’s dip in form towards the end of the season raised many concerns in the Real Madrid offices over his fitness and physical state. A mini ‘pre-season’ was said to be in the manager’s plan, especially keeping Bellingham’s recovery in mind.

The young midfielder, however, started the team’s game against Deportivo Alaves once more despite rumours of him being rested and dished out a classic on the night. His performance, in many senses, was one that announced his return to form.

In 90 minutes against Alaves, Bellingham scored one goal and provided two assists as the game ended 5-0 in Real Madrid’s favour.

Furthermore, the former Borussia Dortmund star recorded a staggering 121 touches, 99 passes, six key passes and created one big chance. He also completed four dribbles on the night and participated in eight defensive actions.

It thus becomes a serious question ahead of tomorrow’s clash as to how Carlo Ancelotti plans on managing Bellingham’s minutes.

The obvious approach would be to field the youngster from the start and reward his improved performance at the weekend. Concurrently, however, there is concern over the midfielder being overused which inhibits the manager from such a move.

Will Bellingham start against Villarreal or will the likes of Brahim Diaz or Arda Guler get a deserved start? Only time will tell.

Lunin’s heroic exit

Thibaut Courtois’ injury before the commencement of the new season left Real Madrid with a crisis in goal. The repercussions of the blow, however, were not as dire as expected courtesy of Andriy Lunin’s exceptional performances.

Lunin could play his final game of the season vs Villarreal. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Despite starting the campaign behind Kepa Arrizabalaga on the pecking order, the Ukrainian international has done enough to become the team’s primary goalkeeper across all competitions.

Only Courtois’ return last month displaced him from the starting lineup as the manager prioritised bringing the Belgian superstar back to full fitness.

Real Madrid now plan on starting Courtois for the big UCL final at Wembley next month.

While unfair on Lunin who deserves the start, one cannot blame Ancelotti for relying on the player who single-handedly kept the team in the game the last time they featured in a European final.

With Courtois set to start against Real Betis and Borrusia Dortmund, tomorrow could well be Lunin’s final game of the season for Real Madrid and the 25-year-old will look to depart with a bang.

Momentum is paramount

Real Madrid have already been crowned the champions of La Liga, and every game that remains in the competition at this point only serves as a practice encounter for the big challenge that lies ahead.

Los Blancos take on Borussia Dortmund in the finale of the UCL early next month, and only two games remain before the season-defining encounter. A lot, needless to say, will depend on how Ancelotti manages his squad for the two matches that lie ahead.

Considering that the calendar is no longer as hectic as it was a month ago, the manager could well field his best XI against Villarreal aiming to keep the momentum going for his side. After all, it is paramount at this stage in the season.

At the same time, however, the manager must rotate his squad ahead to give fringe players some deserved minutes and balance the playing time of regular starters.

Los Blancos, at this point, are unbeaten in 23 games across all competitions and have the momentum fairly on their side. Maintaining it with a positive result tomorrow irrespective of the final decision on the extent of rotations will thus be crucial for the Merengues.

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