Real Madrid (+135) at Manchester City (+190), Draw (+225)
Manchester City are already in uncharted territory, playing in their first Champions League semifinal. Manuel Pellegrini will try to take the Citizens to even greater heights tomorrow (Tuesday, April 26) when they take on Real Madrid in the first leg of their two-game aggregate goal series at Etihad Stadium (2:45 PM Eastern).
With their Premier League title hopes officially dashed, the UCL trophy is the only thing City have left to play for. And play they have over the last month, eliminating Dynamo Kiev (3-1 on aggregate) in the Round of 16 and then ousting French powerhouse PSG (3-2 on aggregate) in the quarters.
Manchester City need to jump out to a hot start at home against Real, but they have been far from perfect at Etihad this season; they have won three of their five UCL home games, losing to Juventus and drawing with Dynamo Kiev.
If Man City is the new kid on the block, Real Madrid is that grumpy old man at the end of the cul-de-sac who just refuses to leave. The team has won a record ten titles and is making its sixth straight appearance in the semis. That said, they’re only 1-4 in the last five semifinal series.
As much as ever, Real’s hopes are pinned to Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese star leads the tournament with 16 goals (twice as many as second-place). Karim Benzema is the next highest scorer on the team with four. No one else has more than one.
The team, as a whole, has only scored 26 goals this season. When you add in Ronaldo’s four assists, he’s had a hand in 77-percent of Real’s tallies.
It was the same old story in the quarters when Real ousted Wolfsburg. The team fell behind 2-0 in the first leg, but Ronaldo netted a hat-trick in the second leg to put Real through (3-2 on aggregate).
Madrid has an identical 3-1-1 record away from home at the moment. In addition to the setback to Wolfsburg in Germany, they drew PSG in Paris during the Group Stage.
On the personnel front, Benzema will miss this meeting for Real while Yaya Toure is out for Man City. (There was some question whether Ronaldo would be healthy, but he’s widely expected to suit up.)
Despite the injury concerns, Real are modest favorites to win the first leg in Manchester, sitting at +135. (The over/under is at 2.5.) Both teams will be in attack mode from the outset – neither knows how to play any other style – so expect goals. If Benzema and Ronaldo were fully fit, I’d be tempted to back Madrid. But as things stand, I’m inclined to take the OVER instead.
Pick: OVER (2.5).
(Photo Credit: By John Urquhart (Flickr: Manchester City v Real Madrid 21/11/12) CC BY 2.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)
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