A week has passed since Manchester City beat Real Madrid 4-3 in one of the most entertaining Champions League semi-final first legs we’ve ever seen.
Karim Benzema’s late panenka penalty gave Los Blancos a much-needed boost heading into the home leg at the famous Bernabeu. The striker showcased his incredible instincts as a centre-forward, scoring two important goals for his side at the Etihad Stadium as his fine scoring form continued.
What was interesting about the clash between two of Europe’s superpowers was how different their current team structures are - and both are effective. For City, Pep Guardiola has created a well-oiled machine of extremely talented players who showcase their best as a unit. There is such a harmony across the banks of players from defence to attack and even though many people have commented on City not having a registered number nine in their ranks, they have looked just as good without one.
There is no denying that they are blessed with starpower, but Guardiola has built such a strong group of players so that no one is bigger than the team and they all show the same commitment in defending as they would when they ruthlessly attack. When you watch back their goals against Madrid from a week ago you will see how efficient they are when they are all on the same page and playing for the team rather than going for individual glory.
However, this is very different to how their opponent’s squad has been built. This season, Ancelotti has built the team around two key players, Benzema and Luka Modric, but mainly the free-scoring Frenchman. While Real Madrid were able to rally after a shaky start against the reigning English champions last time out, it showed that their collective effort is nowhere near to the standards that Man City set. But that is just how Guardiola works. He is tenacious with his ideology on the pitch and even when he achieves great things he is already striving to make himself and his players better.
Madrid have a strong squad, clearly. They wouldn’t have made it this far in the Champions League if they didn’t. Benzema’s brilliance has inspired them this term and as the focal point of Ancelotti’s Los Blancos team, he is looked to to lead in the most difficult moments. He certainly did that in the first leg and he will be expected to spearhead his team’s assault in the crucial second leg.
As is with all two-legged ties in football, it is rather a marathon, not a sprint. This could lead to Real Madrid’s downfall in terms of how they might be too reliant on Benzema to fire them to the final in Paris. Of course he could, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he didn’t. He cannot be expected to complete the gargantuan task ahead alone.
Whereas the structure behind the City lineup is precisely concocted so that any one of them could be the hero to send them to a second consecutive European final, all because they are closely following the instructions given to them as a group by Guardiola straight from the training ground.
The two philosophies that both Guardiola and Ancelotti approach with their teams are very different, but yet both have proved to be successful. The Italian has just claimed his first La Liga title with Los Blancos, becoming the first manager in history to win each of the top five divisions in Europe, while Guardiola’s men are on course to become the champions of England again - although it’s really the champions of Europe status they crave.
We were more than treated by these two superpowers in the first leg and everyone will be hoping that we get just as much of an action-packed match this time around.
*18+ | BeGambleAware