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Three talking points ahead of Manchester City vs Real Madrid

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Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

In less than 24 hours, one of Real Madrid and Manchester City will feel the confetti rolling over their shoulders. Indeed, the clash between the two European sides is only a semifinal, but the sheer quality of football in the tie has been nothing less than a grand finale.

The winner on Wednesday night will be the undisputed favourite to take home the UEFA Champions League. In either case, a special storyline awaits – an incredible title defence for Real Madrid or a special first for the Blues.

Manchester City may have the home advantage on the night, but Real Madrid are the perennial favourite in the UCL for their sheer determination and ability to turn up when required. The game at Etihad will be the biggest fixture in club football this season, and the hype is justified.

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

1. A clash of champions

The ninety minutes of football that graced the Santiago Bernabeu last week had every supporter on the edge of their seat. The prospect of Europe’s two best teams taking on each other had generated great expectations and it is safe to say that it did not disappoint.

The game may not have had goals aplenty, but that was not for a dearth of trying. Very little separated the two teams on the night and the low-scoring encounter was the result of an equally weighted attack and defence balancing each other out on both halves of the field.

The two European giants now take each other on for the second time in two weeks. Once again, they begin with parity on the scoreline but do not have the luxury of a cushion to fall back on this time around.

Nothing less than a win will suffice for Carlo Ancelotti’s men heading into the away leg of a difficult tie. The final promises a relatively easier outing and a win tomorrow could go a long way in assuring the Merengues of a title defence.

All eyes will thus be on Ancelotti tomorrow as to what strategy he brings to the Etihad. Going by Manchester City’s style of play, however, one could expect a more defensive and cautious approach with the hope of striking gold on the counter.

2. The Militao muddle

Rudiger or Militao against City? (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP via Getty Images)

When Eder Militao was ruled out of the first leg against the Premier League champions, many gave Manchester City the edge over Real Madrid. After all, such has been the influence of the Brazilian international on Real Madrid’s defence from both a consistency and leadership point of view.

Ancelotti thus opted to start his next-best duo of Antonio Rudiger and David Alaba on the night. In the ninety minutes that followed, the German-Austrian combination belittled the visitors’ attack with precise tackles and wonderful reading of the game.

Now, Ancelotti faces a dilemma. Militao’s availability would normally place him as one of the first names on the team sheet. Yet, to change a tried and tested formula might prove suicidal in a game of such tight margins.

Moreover, Militao’s form in recent games has been far from convincing. One is specifically reminded of the Brazilian’s gift to Real Sociedad in La Liga not so long ago and the 4-2 thrashing to Girona.

There have been talks of starting all three defenders to build a wall around Erling Haaland but it appears that such a drastic change will not be made at a critical stage in the competition. Needless to say, a lot rides on Ancelotti’s selection of the centre-back department on Wednesday night.

3. Ancelotti’s trump card

One of Real Madrid’s most improved players under Ancelotti has been Eduardo Camavinga. The Frenchman has seen a steep bullish period for his stocks this season and has been rapidly progressing from strength to strength.

The left-back situation, however, has tied him down to a position he would not normally play at. Given the team’s acute shortage of options, Camavinga has been forced to operate on the left of defence repeatedly this season and has thus seen his productivity decrease.

The youngster has now become an experienced campaigner at left-back. His special display in the first leg is a testament to the same, given that he effectively controlled Bernardo Silva down his flank and weakened the English team’s attack.

On Wednesday, the Frenchman could finally feature in the middle of the park for Los Blancos. Ferland Mendy’s return from injury frees him from the unconventional position, and Camavinga could thus be Ancelotti’s trump card.

The youngster is expected to start alongside Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in midfield and will be a key pillar in progressing the ball forward on the break. Further, his work rate off the ball will give Real Madrid a big advantage in the midfield battle.

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Features

Five players who will be fixed starters for Real Madrid next season

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Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images

Following a successful campaign, Real Madrid are poised for significant changes in their roster due to a combination of player arrivals and departures.

The responsibility of blending new faces with established stars will fall to coach Carlo Ancelotti and his staff as they aim to maintain the club’s competitive edge domestically and in Europe.

And to predict the team’s probable strategy and performance amidst these changes, it is imperative to identify the key players who will be constant starters.

Kylian Mbappe

The new talisman. (Photo by ROMAIN PERROCHEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

With Real Madrid no longer viewing Mbappe through rose-tinted lenses and finally being able to dress him in the royal white jersey, the Frenchman is expected to be one of the first names on the team sheet.

Owing to his instinctive nature to find the back of the net, he is poised to be paired alongside Vinicius Jr. in attack.

Last season, the 2018 World Cup winner scored a whopping 44 goals in all competitions. Thus Real Madrid will be banking heavily on Mbappe’s ability to ask questions of opposition defenders in the final third.

It is being said that Mbappe is all set to wear the iconic number 9 jersey at Real Madrid, which is indicative of the role he will play, as a focal striker.

Vinicius Jr.

The main man at Real Madrid. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

The Brazilian is in pole position to win the Ballon d’Or this year, and looking back on his season with Real Madrid, it is easy to see why.

Despite losing Karim Benzema, his usual partner in crime over the past few years, Vinicius performed remarkably well in Ancelotti’s new system.

Relentlessly taking on defenders, arriving into space, scoring goals, and stepping up in the biggest of moments, he was one of Real Madrid’s major lynchpins throughout the season as they lifted a historic double.

Vinicius impressively racked up 24 goals last season, and given his importance to the team, the likelihood of him not maintaining a starting role next season is nearly nonexistent.

Jude Bellingham

Real Madrid Fans’ Player of the Season. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Defying all expectations in his debut season, Jude Bellingham established himself as a key player for Real Madrid, demonstrating exceptional versatility, and maturity far beyond his years.

Although the Englishman’s performances wavered in the final stretch of the season, Bellingham’s contributions ensured Los Blancos were able to compete in the Champions League and especially La Liga.

In addition to scoring 23 goals in all competitions, he has constantly been a beacon of reliability in midfield and has proven to be the voice of reason on the pitch.

There have been murmurs about Bellingham potentially being berthed deeper next season as Real Madrid intends to use him as Kroos’ replacement. However, given his versatility, he is expected to be a crucial player wherever he plays.

Antonio Rudiger

A mainstay at the back. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Rudiger is one of the major reasons Real Madrid managed to successfully disguise their injury crisis. Despite players falling like dominos in the back-line, the German stood resolutely as a dependable figure for most of the campaign, arguably enjoying one of his best seasons.

Expertly anticipating opposition strikers’ movements, he leaps forward to thwart attacks before they begin. Moreover, thanks to his large stature and incredible recovery pace, he is able to cover distances behind.

Reports have mentioned that Carlo Ancelotti views him as a crucial component of the squad and potential arrivals, such as those of Leny Yoro and Rafa Marin, in the back-line are unlikely to devalue his presence.

Thibaut Courtois

Back like he was never gone. (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

In spite of spending more than half of the campaign on the sidelines recovering from an ACL and MCL injury, Courtois is worth his weight in gold for Real Madrid.

He performed admirably in the final few games of the season and did no wrong against Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League final.

While Andriy Lunin made up for his absence with flying colours, he is placed below Courtois in the pecking order for now, which also has made the Ukrainian lean towards an exit.

The fact that Lunin, after his sublime season, stands no chance of dethroning Courtois between the sticks is a testament to how much the club appreciates the Belgian. Even at the age of 32, the Belgian keeper is anticipated to retain an important role in the team.

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