Football: A Real big test for Manchester City in Champions League semis

Manchester City will have Real Madrid's lethal front trio - (clockwise from bottom) Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema - to contend with. Ronaldo is one strike away from equalling his single-season Champions League record of 17 goals se
Manchester City will have Real Madrid's lethal front trio - (clockwise from bottom) Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema - to contend with. Ronaldo is one strike away from equalling his single-season Champions League record of 17 goals set in 2013-14.PHOTO: REUTERS

Pellegrini's team face 10-time champions in their first-ever semi-final, Atletico meet Bayern

NYON (Switzerland) • Manchester City have avoided an awkward meeting with Pep Guardiola, but Manuel Pellegrini's side will have to overcome Real Madrid to qualify for the Champions League final for the first time.

In being pitted against the 10-time winners, City will not face their incoming manager unless the Premier League giants and Bayern Munich progress to the final at the San Siro in Milan on May 28.

City's director of football Txiki Begiristain said: "We know how many times Real Madrid have won the Champions League and been in numerous semi-finals, so it is going to be very difficult.

"We saw how they came back in the quarter-finals against Wolfsburg, recovering from 2-0 down to win the second leg 3-0. Probably the worst thing for us is playing the second leg at the Bernabeu, which is a huge stadium with a lot of history in this competition."

While it will be Madrid's 27th European Cup semi-final, City are last-four debutants.

The contrasts do not end there. Real are the first side to reach a Champions League semi-final without conceding at home, while City have let in nine goals in Europe's elite club competition this season.

Real's strikeforce of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema will be confident of puncturing City's often shaky defence.

  • CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SEMI-FINALS

  • Manchester City v Real Madrid

    Atletico Madrid v Bayern Munich

    1st legs: April 26 & 27.

    2nd legs: May 4 & 5.

Former Red Devil Ronaldo, in particular, will not be short of motivation on his return to Manchester. He is one strike away from equalling his single-season Champions League record of 17 goals set in 2013-14.

Pellegrini will know all about Ronaldo, a player he signed for a then world record fee of £80 million (S$154.12 million) from Manchester United. The Chilean, who had a year-long spell in charge of Madrid between 2009 and 2010, will also be reunited with Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Benzema and Marcelo.

Pellegrini's Real stint was sandwiched in between reigns at Villarreal and Malaga, making Madrid familiar opponents. He has come up against them 15 times, winning three while losing seven.

"No extra motivation for me (because of my history at Real Madrid)," he said.

"The motivation is to win the tie."

City and Madrid have met twice in this competition before, both times in the 2012-13 group stages. City lost 2-3 at the Bernabeu. They drew 1-1 at the Etihad Stadium.

Real director Emilio Butragueno said: "They will be evenly matched. Manchester City has match-winning players."

In the other semi-final tie, Bayern will face Atletico Madrid, winners over champions Barcelona in the quarter-finals.

"I have seen in the last few years how strong Atletico are in the Spanish league," Guardiola said of the 2014 runners-up.

"They have a good mentality under their coach (Diego) Simeone and have good players going forward in (Fernando) Torres and (Antoine) Griezmann. Simeone is one of the best coaches in the world and his team is one of the best teams in Europe."

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2016, with the headline 'A REAL BIG TEST FOR MAN CITY'. Print Edition | Subscribe