The UEFA Champions League semifinals kick off Tuesday as record European champions Real Madrid visits a Manchester City side that is still chasing an elusive first continental title.
While Real is trying to return to the final for the first time in four seasons and City is looking to reach its second consecutive final.
Madrid is coming off thrilling series against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 and defending champion Chelsea in the quarterfinals.
Manchester City is going from one Madrid team to another after knocking out Atletico Madrid in two hard-fought matches in the quarterfinals.
The second leg took its toll, especially on the defense, as Kyle Walker injured his ankle and still hasn’t returned, while Joao Cancelo picked up another yellow card and is suspended.
With John Stones nursing a hamstring problem, City manager Pep Guardiola will be without a specialist right back for Tuesday’s home game. It’s a big concern given that Madrid’s dangerman Vinicius Junior plays on the left and will likely be up against an out-of-position defender.
It’s still unknown if Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti will be able to count on midfielder Casemiro and defender David Alaba because of muscle injuries. Both players will travel to England.
However, the Italian veteran coach will have Luka Modric at his disposal. The Croat magician orchestrated stirring Real comebacks against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea and now the 36-year-old has City and another Champions League final in his sights.
Modric’s mesmeric, curving pass with the outside of his right foot for Rodrygo to volley in resuscitated Real against Chelsea, just when it looked like they were dead and buried.
His eye-of-a-needle pass through the legs of Presnel Kimpembe for Karim Benzema to finish gave the Spaniards life against PSG, leveling a contest that until that point had gone almost entirely in the opposition’s favor.
Modric’s craft and guile, along with Benzema’s ruthless finishing, have been Real Madrid’s most devastating weapons en route to the Champions League semifinals.
But the Croatian international midfielder is a warrior, too, lifting Real in their most desperate moments through his grit, resilience and sheer force of will.
Two minutes before he bamboozled PSG with that feathered pass through to Benzema in the last 16, Modric had already raised the Santiago Bernabeu to its feet.
PSG was 2-1 up on aggregate and Lionel Messi was off on the counterattack, racing out of his own half, about to embark on a trademark, scuttling run down the right wing.
Modric, despite being in the twilight of his career, scampered after Messi, tracked him and closed in.
He lunged across with his right foot, hooked the ball out of play and clattered Messi to the ground, the stadium roaring with delight, a surge of momentum crackling through the stands.
Benzema’s decisive goals came two and four minutes later.
City chasing glory
Nevertheless, in-form City is tipped to reach the final for a second consecutive year despite the vast gulf in European pedigree between the English champion and Madrid.
The 13-time European champion is into its 30th semifinal, while City has reached the last four for just the third time.
But Guardiola’s men were convincing winners when the sides met in the last 16 two years ago.
“It’s the third time we play the semifinal of the Champions League against a team who has a few Champions Leagues in the trophy cabinet,” said Guardiola.
“It has to be a special night for us to enjoy it, give everything we have in our soul and after we’ll see what happens.”
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