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Real Madrid must defy history, form and Haaland to reach Champions League final

Real Madrid dropped a 1-0 half-time lead in Tuesday’s evenly-contested 1-1 Champions League draw against Manchester City at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Vinicius Junior put Carlo Ancelotti’s team in front with a sublime finish from outside the box before Kevin De Bruyne returned the favour with another classic ‘De Bruyne’ finish. 

Despite halting Man City’s superb run of five straight wins in all competitions, Los Merengues could not be happy with the outcome in anticipation of an ominously-looking trip to the Etihad Stadium next week.

As spotted by OptaJoe, the record-time European champions have failed to qualify from seven of their nine Champions League knockout ties after going winless in the first leg in Madrid. 

However, it’s worth noting that both successful attempts to negotiate such ties came against City’s local rivals Manchester United in 1999/2000 and 2012/13, respectively. 

Replicating that feat against Pep Guardiola’s high-flyers will be easier said than done, especially considering Los Blancos’ patchy form in the past couple of weeks. 

Form is Madrid’s worst enemy

A pair of two-goal margin defeats to Girona and Real Sociedad in the space of seven days saw Madrid effectively surrender the La Liga title to arch-rivals Barcelona.

While a hard-earned 2-1 victory over perennial mid-table strugglers Osasuna last weekend helped Los Merengues end a nine-year wait for Copa del Rey glory, that was hardly enough to settle Ancelotti’s nerves.

Since a 2-0 win at Chelsea in the return leg of the Champions League quarter-final tie, his men have lost back-to-back away matches by an aggregate score of 6-2.

On a more positive note, after managing just one win in seven Champions League away meetings with English clubs (D2, L4), they have won the last two by multi-goal margins. 

That’s perhaps the only encouragement they can get after failing to win any of their four previous visits to the Etihad in Europe’s most prestigious competition (D2, L2), including a 4-3 defeat in this match-up last season.

Norwegian storm

Playing Erling Braut Haaland at and away from the Etihad are two different things. 

While Madrid excelled in keeping the leading Premier League goalscorer at bay in Madrid, they’ll need to play out of their skin to shut him out twice in a row. 

To better understand the size of the task at hand, Los Merengues won’t have to look beyond the 22-year-old’s phenomenal scoring exploits on home soil.

Nine of Haaland’s 12 Champions League goals for Man City have come on home turf, including his memorable five-goal showing in a 7-0 romping of RB Leipzig in the round of 16. 

Guardiola’s trusted goalscorer has only failed to score in three of his 16 Premier League home appearances this season, tallying a staggering 22 top-flight goals across the remaining 13.

During those 13 matches, he racked up a mind-blowing four hat-tricks, with his three-goal haul against Wolverhampton Wanderers in January making him the most prolific Man City home player in a single season.

Before Haaland had hit an 18-goal landmark midway through the season, Sergio Aguero was the Cityzens’ best scorer at the Etihad during a single Premier League campaign, according to the club’s official website

Long-range threat

Like dealing with Haaland’s poacher’s instincts isn’t enough to make Madrid sweat, De Bruyne’s well-documented capacity to score from a long distance is another major source of concern. 

Thibaut Courtois witnessed his countryman’s incredible shooting ability first-hand last night when the 31-year-old hammered home a long-range thunderbolt to level the score.

De Bruyne struck Ilkay Gundogan’s lay-off with power and purpose to take his Champions League tally to 14 goals, seven of which have come from outside the box. 

With 50% of his Champions League goals arriving from a distance, the ex-Chelsea playmaker now boasts a superior ratio to anyone else in the competition’s history to have bagged at least ten goals. 

Ancelotti’s tactical prowess has never ceased to amaze, as most recently witnessed by Madrid’s come-from-behind aggregate triumph over Man City last season.

But the Italian has plenty on his plate, with De Bruyne and Haaland ready to hit his side hard in England next week to get the Cityzens a step closer to lifting an elusive first Champions League crown.

He may have to pull another rabbit out of a hat to inspire Los Blancos’ bid to defy history and underwhelming Champions League record at the Etihad.

Unfortunately for the Madrid faithful, that seems to be a long shot.

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