As Manchester City plot a revenge mission against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals they can draw confidence from the presence of Erling Haaland as the major difference from when the sides met 12 months ago.
City seemed set for a second consecutive final when they led 5-3 on aggregate heading into stoppage time of the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu last season.
But they were stunned by two goals in two minutes by Rodrygo before Karim Benzema’s penalty completed the comeback in extra-time as Madrid went on to lift the European Cup for a 14th time.
A late defensive collapse was only part of the story. City also paid for not taking a series of chances to kill the tie off over both legs without a natural goalscorer.
Less than a week later, City announced they had won the race to arguably the greatest guarantee of goals in the world right now by beating off Madrid to sign Haaland.
The Norwegian has more than justified the hype with 51 goals in all competitions during his first season in England.
“With Erling we knew he scored everywhere,” said City boss Pep Guardiola after Haaland set a new Premier League record of 35 goals in a season last week.
“When you provide him with chances, he scores in all situations. Penalties, crosses, combinations, transitions. He can do many, many things.
“That’s why he scored a lot of goals. I have the feeling he wants to score goals because of his mentality.”
Despite rewriting the record books, Haaland has made clear his desire is for trophies to remember the season by rather than personal milestones.
– ‘So much confidence’ –
City are closing in on matching Manchester United’s feat of being the only side to win the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup in the same season in 1998/99.
Three wins from their final four games will retain the Premier League title for a third consecutive season.
United will have their shot at stopping the treble in the FA Cup final on June 3.
But most see Madrid as the biggest hurdle left for Guardiola’s men to scale with either AC Milan or Inter Milan awaiting the winners in the Champions League final.
Madrid maintain their aura under the lights of the Bernabeu on a Champions League night, while City are still waiting for Guardiola to conquer Europe seven years into his reign.
But City are the form side not just in England but all of Europe. The Premier League leaders are unbeaten in 20 games in all competitions and will also relish having home advantage for the second leg having won all 14 games at the Etihad in 2023.
“We are in exactly the same position as last year in Europe. Real Madrid again. Three games away from winning the Champions League,” City winger Jack Grealish told the Daily Mail.
“All I can say is that I have never had so much confidence and belief in my teammates and myself before a game as I have before going there next week.”
A confidence that comes from having the most prolific striker in the world on their side.