The 10-time European champions were paired with the Premier League side in Friday’s semi-final draw, with the return match at the Santiago Bernabeu. And in facing City, they also avoided both Atletico and Bayern Munich. It is exactly what they would have wanted.
After winning their group, Madrid were paired with Roma in the last 16. Dangerous teams like Arsenal and Juventus were lurking in the second round, but Real instead met the Serie A side who had somehow snuck through with just six points and conceded six in a dreadful defeat at Camp Nou.
Zidane oversaw a 2-0 win at Stadio Olimpico on his European debut as coach and Madrid came through the return by the same scoreline – although only after the Italians had squandered several clear chances at the Bernabeu.
Through to the last eight, all of the big teams were looking at the two supposed weaker teams left in the competition: Wolfsburg and Benifica. And with Madrid’s form hot and cold, Los Blancos were keen to evade Atletico, Barcelona, Bayern and Paris Saint-Germain.
They did. Zidane’s side were paired with Wolfsburg, a team lying in eighth place in the Bundesliga, and there was tangible relief among Real representatives present in Nyon.
That draw led to some claims among the Catalan media that the process may be manipulated to favour the 10-time winners, with Luis Enrique even asked about it. “It doesn’t matter what I think,” the Barca boss shrugged.
Madrid made hard work of Wolfsburg of course, losing 2-0 in Germany before beating Dieter Hecking’s men 3-0 at the Bernabeu in an impressive comeback earlier this week. In truth, however, they should have come through the test much more easily.
Ahead of the semi-final draw on Friday, one Barca fan commented online under a piece in El Mundo Deportivo: “The draw? The only reason to watch it is to see who will play at home first in the Atletico-Bayern tie. Because we all know that Madrid will play City and that the second match will be at the Bernabeu.”
How prophetic. Because that was exactly what happened in the draw on Friday. And while there is no suggestion of foul play, there is no doubt that Madrid can count themselves lucky for the third time in a row.
The club’s director of institutional relations, Emilio Butragueno, said on Friday: “Last year after the draw people also said we were very lucky to draw Juventus and they ended up knocking us out. When you are in the semi-finals of the Champions League, all of the teams are strong.”
They are. But City are the weakest of the four, a side struggling to secure Champions League qualification in the Premier League and who have beaten only one of the top eight this season: Southampton.