Man City remain favorites to win the Champions League despite being handed a difficult last-16 draw against La Liga heavyweights Real Madrid. Pep Guardiola’s men are well off the pace in the Premier League title race and they are now expected to channel their efforts into conquering Europe. Yet they face a stern test of their mettle against a Real Madrid side that won this competition three times in a row between 2016 and 2018.
Europe’s finest clubs learned their fates when the draw took place in Nyon, Switzerland, on Monday. It yielded a few exciting showdowns – defending champions Liverpool face Atletico Madrid, Chelsea lock horns with Bayern Munich and PSG take on Borussia Dortmund, for instance – but Man City’s tie with Real Madrid is undoubtedly the star draw.
A Meeting of Greats
This will be the first time that Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane have ever faced one another as managers. Guardiola won two Champions League titles during an extremely successful four-year spell at Real Madrid’s fiercest rivals, Barcelona, between xxx and xxx. He has continued racking up silverware during subsequent stints at Bayern Munich and Man City, but the Champions League has remained elusive.
Zidane knows nothing but victory in this famous tournament. His first ever job as manager saw him take over at Real Madrid following Rafa Benitez’s sacking in January 2016, and he proceeded to lead his team to victory in the Champions League. They defended their title in 2017 and completed a stunning hat-trick in 2018 before Zidane shocked the footballing world by walking away from the club. He was frustrated by a lack of investment and furious at the decision to sell star player Cristiano Ronaldo, so he quit. It was a disaster for Real Madrid.
Julen Lopetegui presided over a disastrous run of form and he was sacked. Santiago Solari then took over and saw his team crash out of the Champions League at the hands of Ajax in the last 16. Solari was also axed, and Los Blancos turned to Zidane to save the day. The Frenchman was handed a record-breaking transfer budget this summer and he snapped up Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy and Rodrygo to reinvigorate a squad that looked totally lackluster in the wake of Ronaldo’s departure.
Now we will see just how good this new-look Real Madrid team is when they take on the Champions League favorites. It will also be exciting to see who prevails in the tactical battle between two icons of world football in Guardiola and Zidane.
Bookmakers Pay Man City Respect
The first leg takes place at the Bernebeu on Wednesday, February 26. If you check out the Champions League betting odds at leading sportsbooks, you will see that Man City are the favorites to win the first leg. That is an emphatic vote of confidence in their quality when you consider that they are the away side. Man City are as low as 2/5 to qualify for the quarter-finals at Real Madrid’s expense, while some bookmakers are offering a huge 2/1 on Zidane’s met.
But is it merited? After all, Man City have looked some way off their brilliant best this season. They have only won 11 of 17 Premier Leagues so far, and they look certain to finish well short of the epic points tallies they secured in the previous two campaigns. They miss retired captain Vincent Kompany and the defense looks a lot more frail, while the powers of Fernandinho and David Silva appeared to be waning somewhat. They remain devastating in attack, and Kevin De Bruyne is clearly a world-class player, but there are weaknesses that Real Madrid can exploit.
Los Blancos now boasts a strong blend of youth and experience. The likes of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Sergio Ramos know how to get the job done in this competition, while Hazard is a magnificent player and youngsters like Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo provide a fresh injection of dynamism into the squad. They will certainly be no pushovers in this tie.
Man City have also faltered in the Champions League knockout stages every season under Guardiola’s stewardship, while Real Madrid has enjoyed unparalleled success under Zidane. Yet in previous seasons the league title has been City’s priority and that ship now appears to have sailed due to their slip-ups and Liverpool’s exceptional form, so Man City will go full tilt at this tournament and that is a potentially terrifying prospect. This tie, therefore, promises to be totally exhilarating.