UCL 2023-24 || Rudiger epitomises Real tenacity as Man City’s UCL reign ends

Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, the two semifinalists from Wednesday’s UCL fixtures. Source: X

Manchester City against Real Madrid never fails to deliver a breathless encounter, and once again, it took more than 120 minutes to separate two heavyweight modern-day rivals in European football. Ultimately, Real, 14-time UEFA Champions League winners, avenged last season’s semi-final defeat against the Premier League champions. Carlo Ancelotti’s side outgunned City, the reigning champions, 4-3 on penalties to book their berth in the last four for the 32nd time. The Kings of Europe will face Bayern Munich after the Bavarians knocked out Arsenal, sealing their place in the semi-finals with an aggregate score of 3-2, courtesy Joshua Kimmich’s solitary strike in the second leg at the Allianz Arena. Here, we look at the key takeaways from the last two quarterfinals.

Brazilian Duo Come to the Rescue

From the first minute at the Etihad, Real Madrid’s approach was clear: invite pressure, then counter quickly. It paid off just 12 minutes in as Rodrygo silenced the crowd. Jude Bellingham assisted, finding Federico Valverde on the right. Valverde played a through ball to Vinicius Junior, who had stayed onside. He crossed low to Rodrygo, and despite Ederson’s initial save, Rodrygo scored from the rebound, making it 4-3 on aggregate.

Kevin De Bruyne Brings City Back

After missing the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, De Bruyne’s impact was evident in the second leg. The Belgian midfielder kept Real Madrid’s defence on their toes throughout the game by either unleashing shots from outside the box or with defence-breaking through balls. De Bruyne finally brought City back into the game in the 76th minute when he pounced on a sloppy clearance from Antonio Rudiger near the six-yard box and fired past Andriy Lunin for City’s equaliser.

Source: Man City X

Antonio Rudiger’s Tenacity

Many would blame him for his careless clearance which led to City’s equaliser. But apart from that, the German defender didn’t put a foot wrong in the second leg. Just like in Madrid, Rudiger again accomplished the job of keeping City forward Erling Haaland quiet throughout the game. Rudiger almost scored in the dying minutes of extra-time when Brahim Diaz found him with an accurate cross inside the box, but Rudiger missed the target by inches. But he capped off the night with a cool and calm penalty in the tiebreaker to send Real through to the semis.

Vinicius vs Kyle Walker

While Rudiger and Dani Carvajal successfully contained Haaland and Jack Grealish, Kyle Walker fans enjoyed another battle on the Etihad pitch between him and Vinicius. Vinicius had enjoyed the first leg, when Walker was not around. But on Wednesday, the English defender was outstanding in curtailing any kind of threat from the Brazilian winger.

Madrid Fans Missed Benzema?

Whenever Real took on City in the last four or five editions, City dominated possession, number of passes, box penetrations, and number of shots. Despite all that, Real managed to overcome the Premier League heavyweights because of their astute counterattacks, and one of the key men for them was Karim Benzema. Benzema used to have the knack of aiding the counterattacks from the middle by switching the ball towards Vinicius or Rodrygo down the flanks, and he used to be accurate in finding spaces inside the box and capitalising on rare chances to score invaluable goals. On Wednesday, Bellingham was given the responsibility to do Benzema-like things in the middle. But the English midfielder looked off-colour in both legs.

Joshua Kimmich’s Strike Stuns Arsenal

After a gripping first leg at the Emirates Stadium which ended 2-2, the return encounter between Bayern Munich and Arsenal looked evenly poised until the 63rd minute when Joshua Kimmich headed in the winner for the home team from Raphael Guerreiro’s cross. The Allianz Arena erupted in joy after Kimmich’s strike as the Bavarians reach the UCL semi-finals for the first time since the remarkable 2019-20 season, shattering Arsenal’s dreams of glory in what was their first quarterfinal appearance in 15 years. Bayern will meet Real in the semi-finals, marking their first encounter since the memorable clashes during the 2017-18 season. It will also be a homecoming of sorts for Carlo Ancelotti, Toni Kroos, and David Alaba.

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