It seems like months ago that Manchester City were being linked with a move for Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi. With discontent growing in the Barcelona organisation, Messi was increasingly linked with a move away from the club on a free transfer, with Man City emerging as frontrunners. The pall of doom and gloom cast by the Champions League ban seems to have poured cold water on those rumours. As Man City continue to get to grips with what the Champions League ban will mean for the club, Pep Guardiola will have to keep an eye on the mid-week Champions League game against Real Madrid.
For all their riches, their star power and the tactical nuance brought by Pep Guardiola, Manchester City have frequently fallen short in the Champions League. While City may have felt hard done by in the semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur, the earlier Champions League campaign saw them knocked out by the heavy metal football of Liverpool. The season before the Liverpool knockout saw Man City falter against Kylian Mbappe’s Monaco despite taking a 5-3 advantage into the second leg.
All in all, Man City have failed to break ground in the Champions League despite running away with the Premier League title in consecutive seasons. Real Madrid, on the other hand, have made Champions League their hunting ground in recent years. Their last Champions League title came two years ago against an entertaining Liverpool side. Prior to the 2018 CL title, with Zinedine Zidane at the helm and Cristiano Ronaldo leading the charge, Real Madrid secured three Champions League titles in a row, becoming the first European team to achieve the feat.
On Wednesday night at the Santiago Bernabeu, both teams will feature different faces in the squad, but familiar faces in the dugout. With the sword of the Champions League ban hanging over Man City, Pep Guardiola’s longing for a CL title at the club will have to be satisfied this year, or the wait could possibly continue for two more years, extending Guardiola’s barren spell in Europe to six years.
A question then arises – Will Pep Guardiola stay at the Etihad that long? City have rarely faced Europe’s elite early in the competition, meeting clubs like Liverpool later in the competition when a single mistake can prove too costly. This season, Man City have the opportunity to take the Round of 16 tie by the scruff of the neck against a Real Madrid side devoid of Eden Hazard.
Both sides currently find themselves on the back foot in their respective domestic leagues. The Champions League, therefore, represents an opportunity for Real Madrid and Manchester City to salvage something from their season in the holy grail of club football. With the Santiago Bernabeu serving as the backdrop for arguably the biggest draw in the Round of 16, the first leg of the Real Madrid vs Man City tie could, quite possibly, make or break the season for Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola.