Manchester City and Real Madrid meet for the seventh time in the Champions League tonight as Pep Guardiola is set to clash with an old rival at the Etihad as the former Barcelona man looks to secure Europe’s top club honor for the first time since 2010-11.
This one is big! 👊
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) April 26, 2022
Guardiola will have plenty of motivation to try to get back to another final as City came up short against Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea last season, and could be bolstered by the notion that they bested Madrid in their last knockout stage meeting in 2019-20 before losing to Olympique Lyonnais in the quarterfinals after competitive football resumed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But Madrid has plenty of motivations of their own under Carlo Ancelotti. With a 35th La Liga title all but secured this season as they sit 15-points clear of bitter rivals Barcelona, Madrid is on the hunt for their 14th Champions League win and the 4th time they would have won the league and European double in their history.
Still, the pressure is on for Manchester City, who have yet to lift the Champions League trophy 14-years after the club’s takeover by Sheikh Mansour despite the immeasurable wealth that has been poured into the club.
Will Pep Guardiola second-guess himself into a characteristic mistake when it matters most and gift Carlo Ancelotti another opportunity to win Europe’s top prize, or will City reach consecutive finals and secure the missing piece of their story? Here is 101 Great Goals’ combined XI for Manchester City vs Real Madrid.
GK: Thibaut Courtois
Combined XI’s are always tricky and almost certainly there will be plenty of readers that will strongly object to choices made; so why not start from the back and work our way forward by selected over Thibaut Courtois over Ederson.
Perhaps more than most other positions, goalkeeper is difficult to assess when two are stacked against the other, but this season in Europe there is something about Courtois that puts him just ahead of Ederson, despite the Brazilian being so assured in the way Manchester City operate on a tactical level. Leadership? Experience? But the reality is Courtois has been superb in Europe all season, and Real Madrid’s defensive numbers in the group stage and knockout rounds have been excellent, which Courtois has had a leading hand in.
RB: Kyle Walker
There is nothing against Dani Carvajal, who has been a brilliant servant for Real Madrid over the years, but veteran English right-back Kyle Walker has remained ever-present for City under Pep Guardiola and his performance levels in Europe remain vital for the way the Premier League outfit so often operate.
Even though there are periods when Walker is not called upon, his ability to be utilized in City’s system on the right side of a back four, or even as a center-back at times is invaluable. Walker’s pace and two-way ability both in the manner that he can contribute in the final third but also defend stoutly or rely on his recovery pace to take chances away from the opposition has made him a cornerstone at the Etihad for good reason.
CB: Rúben Dias
Center-back has always been a lynchpin on a football pitch, and despite the measure of importance that the position carries, so many top-quality players in the position have their contributions understated for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which being that goals keep the attention of most sports fans.
But it is different for Rúben Dias, who is part of a cadre of Portuguese internationals on City’s books, and much like Bernardo Silva and João Cancelo, is a key catalyst for everything that City intend to achieve both in terms of how they operate and their desire to secure silverware. Dias has emerged as one of the best center-backs in the world since his arrival from SL Benfica in 2020, with his ball-playing ability going hand-in-hand with how Guardiola envisions his footballing ideologies have made him a staple figure.
CB: David Alaba
Long thought of as one of the best left-backs, if not the best left-back in Europe for years when he was playing his trade for German giants Bayern Munich, David Alaba has continued his re-education as a center-back after swapping Munich for Madrid and has done so expertly.
So dominant with her left foot while also displaying a positional intelligence that allowed him to begin his transition to center-back while in the Bundesliga, Alaba – who also spent considerable time in the center of the park in midfield – has brought to bear his considerable experience in other locations on the pitch to mold himself into a prototypical modern center-back for Real Madrid.
LB: João Cancelo
It is possible that many will get tired of João Cancelo being included in team XI’s as a left-back given that he has made 183-appearances on the right side of the defense and just 59-appearances on the left, but such is Cancelo’s quality in whatever he does – or where ever he is deployed – that he surely has to be included here.
And for once, it is not a debate regarding how he stacks up against Trent Alexander-Arnold in the budding Premier League rivalry with Liverpool, but instead, assessing Cancelo in the Champions League comes down to if he is the best full-back in Europe and few would probably argue against that notion at the time of writing. Two goals and three assists in eight Champions League appearances this season go a long way to solidifying the argument that his inclusion at left-back is entirely justified.
A contentious selection probably, given the quality on display when it comes to Casemiro as a holding player, but Rodri’s inclusion could genuinely be down to preference above all rather than a comparison of quality between the two. Both are top quality in their position of expertise.
But for us, despite Rodri plying his trade in the Premier League, his capabilities on the ball and really having a say in matters in the final third puts him just ahead of Casemiro but by a fraction of a point if anything. The Spanish international truly is excellent in all departments and the threat he possesses in being able to score a goal gives him a few bonus points on top of the profile he brings to the table.
CM: Luka Modrić
He may be getting on in age, but Luka Modrić remains one of the most prominent names in world football and a top-level performer for club and country. Few have had the impact in the Real Madrid midfield across their career in the Spanish capital than the Croatian maestro, and though some may say that is a byproduct of his partnership with Toni Kroos and Casemiro, Modrić is still very much the heartbeat of Madrid in the center of the park. How the club intends to replace him in the long-term remains a question open to a swath of debate moving forward beginning as early as this summer, but for the time being, should Madrid reach the final and manage to win another Champions League trophy, Modrić will surely be at the heart of it.
CM: Kevin De Bruyne
It is safe to say that Belgian international star Kevin De Bruyne would make every combined XI that anyone could muster. A real leader on and off the pitch and unquestionably one of the sharpest creative minds to emerge on a football pitch of his generation, City really is a better side with him in the lineup despite how good they can be when he is absent.
His eye for goal for a midfielder in a number of scoring situations makes him such a threat in the final third of the pitch, but the manner in which he has developed into such a dominant presence in terms of command and control, and a true guardian of City’s way of playing under Guardiola, that he is without a doubt one of the best players on the planet and has been for some time. Chelsea will certainly be left frustrated with how they let him go.
RW: Riyad Mahrez
There are a few players that could have slotted in here in the right-wing birth, and perhaps some would think that Mahrez may be one of the least deserving when it comes to public perception in certain circles, but the Algerian international has been in scintillating form for Manchester City in the Champions League this season to the tune of 6-goals in 9-appearances in Europe’s top club competition.
And there was a time when some felt that Mahrez may not have made the right move from Leicester City to the Etihad and even still many felt he could have moved on a couple of seasons ago, but his persistence under Guardiola has seen him grow into a magnificent player.
LW: Vinícius Júnior
Brazil and attacking players is a relationship – or more so, a love affair – that has existed as long as football has lived and breathed in the South American nation, and wonderkid Vinícius Júnior has emerged as an elite-level winger despite his tender age and undoubtedly a key catalyst at Real Madrid this term. He has not had the goal return in Europe (2) that he boasts in La Liga (14) this season, but his creativity and ability to supply Karim Benzema has been unwavering regardless of the competition he has been fielded in. His 6-assists in 10-appearances in Europe this cycle have been impressive, but the way he manages to influence the ebb and flow of proceedings when he’s on the ball is an absolute joy to watch.
CF: Karim Benzema
Mames the likes of Lewandowski, Ronaldo, Haaland, and others have regularly been at the forefront of the discussion of center-forward for one reason or another. But the genuine respect being paid forward to Karim Benzema in recent seasons is beyond deserved for a player that has emerged as one of the best strikers in the world. During the days of Ronaldo in the Spanish capital, Benzema regularly took a backseat to the Portuguese icon’s goalscoring exploits, and perhaps no one could blame anyone for that narrative, but the way that the Frenchman has stepped up and led the line for the capital outfit since Ronaldo’s departure has been utterly sublime. His goal return both at the domestic and European level places him in the same category as Lewandowski and his former clubmate regarding the mercurial presence they possess on the pitch. Perhaps more than any other player in this XI, Benzema is truly, and entirely, indispensable.