Karim Benzema believes Real Madrid need another special night at the Santiago Bernabeu to progress to the Champions League final following their 4-3 loss to Manchester City.

Pep Guardiola's side were 2-0 up inside 11 minutes at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday as a thrilling semi-final first leg got off to a flying start. 

Benzema's double – only his Panenka in the 82nd minute matching the degree of difficulty from a finish around body in the 33rd – ultimately helped Real Madrid limit the damage.

The 34-year-old called upon his club's fans to help them get to May's final in Paris.

"There are 90 minutes at the Bernabeu for the fans to make a difference again," Benzema told Movistar+. "We leave here with our heads held high to play a good game in the return leg. The fans leave proud.

"We have to keep our heads calm and see what we have to do to improve, a little of everything and especially at the beginning of games."

Benzema's brace against the Premier League leaders made him the fifth player in the Madrid's history to score over 40 goals in a single season, after Cristian Ronaldo, Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo Di Stefano and Hugo Sanchez.

City were dominant against a Madrid side who badly missed Casemiro at the base of midfield, however, with Toni Kroos' defensive vulnerability a key factor in three of City's goals.

As has been the case during the knockout stage this season, in a game certainly not short on drama, Carlo Ancelotti's side managed to simply find a way to stay alive with a result that defied logic.

"A defeat is never good, but we are excited about this Champions League and the important thing is we never give up," Benzema said. "Now we have to go to the Bernabeu and we need the fans like never before to do something magical, which is to win.

"We entered the game without confidence, and that's what happens with an opponent like Manchester City. In this game a little bit of everything was missing."

On April 26, 2016, Manchester City and Real Madrid played out a tepid 0-0 draw in the first leg of a Champions League semi-final at the Etihad Stadium. 

Back at the same ground, in the same round of the same competition six years later, they produced a spectacle that had the contrast cranked up to the maximum.

It was the joint-highest scoring semi-final in the competition's history, and it was a story that twisted and turned from the first minute until the last.

But the opening chapter reached its conclusion with City holding a 4-3 advantage after an enthralling 90 minutes.

A start for the history books 

City pressed Madrid high from the off and it was shortly after regaining possession in the final third that Kevin De Bruyne made a phenomenal dart into the box to head home Riyad Mahrez's pinpoint delivery. 

There were just 95 seconds on the clock, making it the quickest goal in Champions League semi-final history. The previous mark was 2 minutes 44 seconds, which was set by Bayern Munich's Joshua Kimmich against Madrid in May 2018. 

It did not stop there, though. De Bruyne picked out Gabriel Jesus, who, after a somewhat fortuitous first touch, guided a cool finish beyond Thibaut Courtois to make it 2-0. 

Madrid had never before conceded twice in the first 11 minutes of a Champions League match and it looked like they could be seriously up against it with Mahrez, Phil Foden and Oleksandr Zinchenko all going close. 

Benzema brings it back 

It has already been the best season of Karim Benzema's career and he showed just how important he has become to Madrid in his 600th appearance for the club – the most by a non-Spanish player. 

He got in front of Zinchenko to steer home a brilliant volley from the edge of the box in the 33rd minute for his 40th goal of the season. The Frenchman now belongs to an exclusive club of just five players to hit that mark in a single campaign for Los Blancos, joining Cristiano Ronaldo, Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo Di Stefano and Hugo Sanchez. 

No let-up 

Madrid lost their best defender in David Alaba at half-time and the momentum they had built before the break quickly dissipated. 

Los Blancos concede an average of five more shots per game when Alaba does not feature and City had already had four efforts on goal – two of which came when Mahrez hit the post and Foden saw his goal-bound follow-up blocked by Dani Carvajal – before restoring their two-goal cushion through Foden in the 53rd minute. 

Makeshift right-back Fernandinho, who replaced the injured John Stones in the first half, set up Foden with an excellent cross but his defending belied his years of experience just two minutes later. Vinicius Junior got the better of his fellow Brazilian with a clever dummy by the halfway line, and no one could catch him before he tucked the ball into the bottom-right corner. 

It was the first time two players aged 21 or younger had scored in the same Champions League semi-final match.  

Don't look away

The drama was far from over, though. Bernardo Silva capitalised when referee Istvan Kovacs wisely played the advantage following Toni Kroos' challenge on Zinchenko by slamming the ball into the top-left corner in the 74th minute.

City consequently became the first English side to score four against Madrid in the Champions League since Liverpool in March 2009. It would have been five had Mahrez been able to add a finish to his coruscating run.

But Aymeric Laporte inexplicably handling a cross enabled Benzema to score his ninth goal of the knockout stages – a Panenka from the penalty spot moving him one adrift of Ronaldo's record (10) from Madrid's triumphant 2016-17 campaign. The Portugal captain (13) is also the only player to have scored more Champions League semi-final goals than Benzema's seven.

Madrid were unable to stop Pep Guardiola claiming a 12th win in his 20 meetings with them across his entire coaching career, though. The Catalan's record in the semi-final has been met with a lot of questions, but he has never been eliminated after winning a first leg at this stage.

He will hope to get the job done at the Santiago Bernabeu and get a chance at redemption after last season's final defeat to Chelsea.

Kevin De Bruyne scored the fastest goal in Champions League semi-final history to give Manchester City a phenomenal start against Real Madrid. 

Belgium international De Bruyne headed in a brilliant delivery from Riyad Mahrez after just 95 seconds of the first leg at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday. It was also the fastest goal scored in the Champions League this season. 

The City midfielder's effort beat the previous record set by Joshua Kimmich, who scored in the third minute of Bayern Munich's May 2018 meeting with Real Madrid. 

Nine of De Bruyne's 12 Champions League goals (75%) have come in the knockout stages, which is the highest share among players to find the net at least 10 times in the competition. 

Unai Emery says Villarreal must try and "surf the wave of experience" they have gained when they do battle with the "best-ever Liverpool" for a place in the Champions League final.

Villarreal dumped out Serie A giants Juventus and Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich on a surprise run to the last four.

The Yellow Submarine travel to Anfield for the first leg on Wednesday plotting to tear up yet another script.

Villarreal beat Manchester United in the Europa League final last season and it would be an incredible story if they won Europe's premier club competition in Seville next month.

Emery rates Premier League title contenders Liverpool, who are eyeing an unprecedented quadruple, as the favourites to lift the trophy and knows his side are no longer a surprise package

The Villarreal head coach said at a pre-match news conference on Tuesday: "We face a bigger challenge than before. The surprise factor is no longer there. They are the number one favourites to win this competition.

"The team is a mirror of their coach, Jurgen Klopp, in terms of playing with joy, with enthusiasm. They are in the best moment.

"I remember my experiences against Liverpool [when he was Arsenal boss] at Anfield as challenging. I recognise the work done and the identity created by Klopp, which has since been further improved.

"I see that as an additional motivation for me, to try and beat the best-ever Liverpool. For that we will need to show our best version."

Emery says the LaLiga side must draw on the experience they have gained from their exploits in Europe.

He added: "We have been able to compete against big teams like Juve and Bayern, so they know it will be a tough game and will have to be 100 per cent and give it all at Anfield.

"Of course they will feel favourites as that is natural. It is an even higher difficulty than Juventus and Bayern Munich.

"We will try to surf the wave of experience we started accumulating last season."

Villarreal have not won in their previous eight matches in England, but their last victory came on Merseyside against Everton in August 2005.

Raul Albiol says reaching the Champions League final with Villarreal "would become a milestone in the history of football" as they prepare to take on Liverpool in the last four.

The Spanish club have already defied the odds by eliminating heavyweights Juventus and Bayern Munich en route to setting up a two-legged showdown with Liverpool.

Villarreal are up against English opponents for the fourth time out of their past five major European semi-final appearances.

That includes a 3-1 aggregate defeat to Liverpool at this stage of the 2015-16 Europa League, and they enter this latest encounter as underdogs despite their impressive run.

While aware of the size of the task that awaits his side, Villarreal skipper Albiol is eager to write his name in club folklore by keeping their European adventure alive.

"It would be a dream to play the Champions League final with Villarreal, a humble and hardworking team that has struggled to remain among the elite," he told UEFA's website.

"A club coming from a town with 50,000 inhabitants making it to the Champions League final would become a milestone in the history of football. 

"So, it would be something that not only Villarreal supporters would remember but many football lovers."

Albiol has won eight trophies at club level across an 18-year career, including the Europa League with Villarreal last season.

That ensured a place in this term's Champions League, and Villarreal have lost just two of their 10 matches thus far.

Reflecting on the past year, Albiol – a member of Spain's 2010 World Cup-winning squad – said: "The Europa League's helped us have these experiences in the Champions League. 

"They are not at the same level, but last year we started to be a competitive team in Europe and to know how to play in tough knockout rounds.

"I think that now, by eliminating Juve and Bayern, we have shown that the team has personality, knows how to suffer; we have come through in difficult moments.

"Winning the club's first European title was historic, but if we suffer defeat to Liverpool, it could be historic too. 

"So, we have to do our best during these two matches to try to do it; we have to give everything to write another chapter in history.

"If Villarreal got into the Champions final, it would be something historic for a club, and a village, such as Villarreal."

Villarreal are winless in their past eight trips to England in European competition, most recently losing 2-1 to Manchester United in the group stage seventh months ago.

Belief is high in the Yellow Submarine's camp, however, having also won back-to-back domestic matches to climb up to seventh in LaLiga.

"It reflects that with effort, dedication and team spirit, you can achieve great things – and that money and great players are not the only way to win titles," Albiol said. 

"In the end, we are a great group of players with a good level, who want to grow and improve, who work hard and spend many hours getting ready for every match with the staff. 

"We are now at that point in which we can believe."

Jurgen Klopp hailed Unai Emery as a "world-class coach" and vowed Liverpool will not underestimate Champions League semi-final opponents Villarreal.

The Reds are still in contention for an unprecedented quadruple and enter Wednesday's first leg with Villarreal at Anfield as strong favourites to advance to next month's final.

However, the Spanish club stunned Juventus in the last 16 and followed that up by eliminating a much-fancied Bayern Munich side in the quarter-finals.

Villarreal's domestic form has improved of late, meanwhile, having won back-to-back LaLiga games – against Getafe and Valencia – to move into seventh place.

Liverpool have progressed from nine of their previous 11 European Cup and Champions League semi-finals, but Klopp is taking nothing for granted against Emery's Villarreal.

"We are here because we got the results we needed," Klopp said at Tuesday's pre-match news conference.

"It's special to be part of the semi-final. It's a massive game. So many coaches and players work their socks off to be close to a semi-final, so we have to cherish it but enjoy it.

"We face a difficult opponent. They are made for this competition. The way they set up is really good.

"They may have had a little advantage where Juve and Bayern maybe underestimated them. That never happens with us, no chance of that. That advantage may have gone.

"They are a good football team that wants to make history. It would be the first time they would make the final, which is massive for them. But for us, it's the same importance."

Emery guided Sevilla to a 3-1 Europa League final win over Klopp's Liverpool in 2016 – one of 11 trophies he has won across an 18-year coaching career.

He took charge of Villarreal in July 2020 following a disappointing stint at Arsenal and guided the Yellow Submarine to Europa League glory last season.

"I have a lot of respect for Unai and Villarreal," Klopp added. "I've analysed them properly, and wow. Impressive.

"Unai is a detailed-obsessed manager who prepared for all different situations in a game. That's what his team executes. Different ways to press and react on different results.

"It's really, really impressive. Unai is a world-class coach and doing an incredible job there. The good thing about the analysis is we're not involved in those games.

"We must make life as difficult for them as possible. That's what we try to do over these two legs."

Liverpool beat Villarreal 3-1 on aggregate in their only previous European encounter, in the 2015-16 Europa League semi-final, with both teams winning their home leg.

Villarreal have not won any of their last eight away games on English soil, a run that includes a 2-1 Champions League group-stage defeat to Manchester United in September.

And Klopp will be looking to take a victory to Estadio de la Ceramica for next week's reverse fixture as Liverpool aim to make it a clean sweep of trophies this season.

"We have two halves to play. We know when we to go Villarreal, it will be an emotional atmosphere," Klopp said. "There are moments where we will suffer tomorrow.

"I know that already and that's what we have to be ready for. There's no need to be nervous, that's how it is. This advantage at home we have to use.

"Whichever result we will get, we will fight with it. It means everything to us to reach the Champions League final."

Mohamed Salah has set his sights on further Champions League and domestic success with Liverpool.

Jurgen Klopp's side face Villarreal in the first leg of their semi-final encounter on Wednesday, just under three years on from their last triumph in the tournament. The Champions League is one of three trophies that Liverpool are still in the hunt for this season, having already won the EFL Cup.

Salah helped Liverpool to victory in an all-English affair against Tottenham on that occasion in 2019, and says he wants to recapture those highs with a second European crown.

"I want to have the feeling again that we had after winning the Champions League," he told the club's matchday programme ahead of the game.

"It was unbelievable and in my mind that's why I want to win it again with Liverpool. The feeling we had in the city when we went on the bus and toured was unbelievable. 

"The Premier League was kind of different because it was not done [due to COVID-19 restrictions], but I want to win the Champions League again and I want to win the Premier League again. 

"That is my target with the team right now."

Salah has enjoyed another prolific campaign at Anfield, and is the leading scorer in the Premier League this season with 22 goals to his name, five ahead of his nearest rival Son Heung-min of Tottenham.

But the forward feels he has more to give than what he has delivered, adding: "I saw my game improving, but the season before last I had 19 goals and 10 assists in the Premier League.

"In my first season it was also 10 assists, so I'm always trying to score goals and give assists. 

"That is always my game and this season I feel a lot of improvement with the ball, but I go back to what I said before. The most important thing is to help this team win trophies and I am trying to help to do that."

It seems bizarre to suggest that in a contest between a club that has never won the European Cup or Champions League and another that has won 13 of them, it is the latter who will go into it as the underdog.

That is the case this week, though, with Manchester City and Real Madrid set to go head-to-head for a place in this season's Champions League final.

There is obviously reasoning behind this, with Pep Guardiola's side winning every other trophy available to them in recent years and breezing through their European campaign up to this point, a few scars from their quarter-final with Atletico Madrid aside.

Carlo Ancelotti's men have had a tougher road to get here, having to get past newly crowned French champions Paris Saint-Germain and reigning European champions Chelsea so far in the knockout stages.

They had to produce stirring comebacks in both ties, but City are an altogether different prospect, having finished above PSG in the group stage and beaten Chelsea home and away in the Premier League this season.

The English side have very few obvious weaknesses, but perhaps there is one area where Ancelotti can focus ahead of the first leg in Manchester.

Guardiola has recently been slightly overstating his lack of options, saying before the game with Watford at the weekend that City were suffering an injury crisis, before using 14 players that cost approximately £695million (€825m) (according to Transfermarkt.co.uk) to beat the Hornets 5-1.

However, one of his star performers this season has undoubtedly been Joao Cancelo, and the Portuguese full-back is suspended for the first clash with Madrid, while Kyle Walker remains a doubt with an ankle injury.

"They are doubts," the City manager said at a news conference on Monday when asked about Walker and John Stones. "They didn't train for the last week, 10 days... We will see how they feel and take a decision tomorrow."

This could lead to Guardiola having to get a bit creative at right-back, with Oleksandr Zinchenko presumably getting the nod on the left.

Most eyes will be on the likes of Karim Benzema and Luka Modric to lead the visitors, with both producing their usual big-game performances to make the difference against PSG and Chelsea, but the key at the Etihad Stadium may be another slightly unsung hero.

It's not that Vinicius Junior is not highly rated. This season he has exploded into one of the most potent attackers in world football, but this could be the perfect time for him to cement his name as a star of Real Madrid's present and future.

The Brazilian has always been considered a talent but could never quite put together the consistent run of form expected of regular starters in the famous all-white kit, until this season.

Vinicius has registered 31 goal involvements (17 goals, 14 assists) in 45 games in all competitions (42 starts), and has created 94 chances from open play.

Compare this to last season and you can see his significant improvement, managing just 10 goal involvements (six goals, four assists) in 49 appearances (31 starts) in 2020-21, with just 43 chances created from open play.

His numbers are now up there with the best in Europe. In terms of chances created from open play in the top five European leagues this season, only Bruno Fernandes (101) and Thomas Muller (100) have created more than his 94.

No-one has attempted more than his 303 dribbles this season, while only Adama Traore, Kylian Mbappe (both 137) and Allan Saint-Maximin (136) have completed more dribbles than his 127.

Vinicius is well established as a standout performer in LaLiga this season as well, with only Benzema (25), Enes Unal and Raul de Tomas (both 15) having scored more than his 14, while only Benzema (36) has more goal involvements than his 22.

Speaking of Benzema, his partnership with the 34-year-old marksman is developing into one of the most potent in the game, with the duo having provided the most goals for each other in the Champions League this season (six), ahead of Ajax's Antony and Sebastian Haller, and Bayern Munich's Leroy Sane and Muller (both four).

Vinicius is always a threat, as shown against Chelsea at the Santiago Bernabeu in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final. Blues right-back Reece James had been doing a good job of containing him, until one switch off in extra time allowed the 21-year-old down the left, and he played a perfect cross in for Benzema to score what proved to be the winning goal in the tie.

There is another Brazilian winger for City to potentially watch out for, though, in Rodrygo, who also played a crucial role in dumping out Chelsea by scoring moments after coming off the bench in the second leg.

While he has certainly not emerged like Vinicius just yet, the former Santos player has been making himself a more integral part of Ancelotti's squad, with 41 appearances in all competitions so far this season (19 starts), which is already more than the 33 (13 starts) he managed in 2020-21.

He has 12 goal involvements (four goals, eight assists) this season, up from nine last year (two goals, seven assists), and the youngster recently told Real Madrid's official website that he is looking forward to the test of City.

"They'll be tough opponents," he said. "We know the way they play and how good they are. If they've made it to the Champions League semi-finals, it means they're good, and it's down to the way City like to play, with a lot of possession.

"We're expecting a tough match and we have to make sure we keep playing like we have been and try to make it through."

Rodrygo might be under more pressure to perform given recent rumours that he may be one of the players who will have to make way for Mbappe should the club finally land the PSG star at the end of the season.

That being said, arguably Mbappe's best position is where Vinicius is currently doing his damage, which leads you to wonder if he too might be playing for his long-term future.

Of course, the Frenchman can play through the middle but there's another significant obstacle in the way there too in the form of his compatriot Benzema.

If Vinicius and Rodrygo want to make a case for maintaining their roles at the club, they have the perfect opportunity to do so by taking Madrid to a first Champions League final since 2018, and we will see just how ready for the challenge they are at the Etihad.

Real Madrid will relish the pressure that comes with their Champions League pedigree as they prepare to take on Manchester City in the first leg of their semi-final tie.

Los Blancos have had a tough route to the final four in Europe's premier competition, having to come from behind to beat both Paris Saint-Germain and last year's winners Chelsea.

Speaking at a news conference, Carlo Ancelotti was asked about comments from City boss Pep Guardiola that his team would be playing against history on Tuesday at the Etihad Stadium, with Madrid having won 13 European Cups or Champions League titles, six more than any other club.

"The history that Real Madrid has in this competition means a lot to us, more than to our rivals," Ancelotti said.

"This story, which has grown over all these years, helps players feel the weight of this shirt. It is positive, not negative.

"The pressure is similar, there is a lot of pressure. For Madrid, it is not usually a success to reach the semi-final, we want to reach the final, which is a success. It is the goal. If it arrives, Real Madrid usually have more options to win it because of our history."

Ancelotti was also asked about the defensive approach Atletico Madrid took against City in the quarter-finals and whether he intends to do similar, replying: "If you don't have a compact team against City you will lose, so you have to be compact. Defence will play a very important part in tomorrow's game."

The 62-year-old, who saw his Everton team get beat 5-0 on his last visit to the Etihad Stadium at the end of last season, will have to make a decision on the fitness of some players after training, with David Alaba and Casemiro possible absentees in Manchester.

"From what we saw in training yesterday. [Ferland] Mendy is fine. We have some doubts with Alaba and, above all, Casemiro," he added.

"We have much more confidence with Alaba than with Casemiro. If Casemiro doesn't play, he will be available for the [second leg]."

Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde also spoke to the media, and like Ancelotti, was asked about the weight of the shirt, with the Uruguay international saying: "When you put on the Real Madrid shirt you want to fight for everything until the last minute. It is part of the history of Madrid. You are always the favourite to win it all."

Dirk Kuyt believes Thiago Alcantara is the best midfielder in the world and has backed Liverpool to complete an unprecedented quadruple.

Thiago moved to Anfield from Bayern Munich for £20million (€23.8m) on a four-year deal in September 2020, but failed to live up to expectations during a first season at the club that was hampered by injuries and COVID-19.

Jurgen Klopp's side lost nine of the first 21 games in which the Spain international featured, including six home defeats in a row, while they were dumped out of the FA Cup and Champions League.

However, Thiago has come to the fore this season, with the Reds a point behind Premier League leaders Manchester City, through to the semi-finals of the Champions League and in the FA Cup final after already winning the EFL Cup.

The Merseyside club have won 14 of 15 top-flight games when Thiago has started this season, in comparison to 10 victories in 18 games without him in the line-up. They also score 2.9 goals on average when he is in the starting XI, as opposed to 2.3 without, and have conceded less (0.3 versus 1).

Thiago has kept Liverpool ticking with his magnificent range of passing, with no Reds player who has featured more than once in the league completing more passes (77.9) per 90 minutes or more in the opponents' half (46.9).

The former Bayern and Barcelona maestro's quality was again on show in the 2-0 win over Everton on Sunday as he made more successful passes (119) than Frank Lampard's entire side (95).

Former Liverpool forward Kuyt was quick to highlight the class of Thiago as he hailed the 31-year-old, but was unsure about the comparisons with Anfield hero Xabi Alonso.

"I think they are slightly different and I'm very happy for Thiago because in the beginning, he needed a bit of time, which is normal in life and in football is to just adapt to the system and to the team and to his new players," Kuyt told Stats Perform. 

"But he's playing such a great football and before he came he was one of the best midfielders in the world for me but now how he's playing on the level he's playing against top, top sides and performing week in week out.

"For me, he's the best midfielder out there at the minute."

Former Netherlands international Kuyt, who played 208 times for Liverpool between 2006 and 2012, also believes his former club have the credentials to win all four trophies.

"They've got the squad to do it. They've got the players and the manager to do it," he added.

"But it's just small details will decide whether they win the quadruple or maybe only the Premier League or the Champions League, but it will be amazing and very well deserved if Liverpool can achieve it all."

Klopp's team host Villarreal in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie on Wednesday.

Manchester City have full focus on winning a maiden Champions League title, Raheem Sterling explained ahead of Tuesday's meeting with Real Madrid.

City were beaten by Chelsea in last season's final, but remain in contention to end their European drought after overcoming Atletico Madrid in a tense quarter-final tie earlier this month.

Next up for the Premier League leaders is a semi-final clash with Los Blancos, against whom Pep Guardiola's side are unbeaten in their last three home Champions League meetings (one win, two draws).

Among City players, only Riyad Mahrez (six goals, one assist) has bettered Sterling's five Champions League goal contributions this season (three goals, two assists), and the England winger is highly motivated to make up for past failures in Europe.

"Every season we are a club looking to challenge for all the big trophies," Sterling told a media conference on Monday.

"The Champions League is the one we haven't got our hands on and is the one we are focused on.

"It's a special competition, it's a competition every young player wants to be in, and it was no different [for me] growing up. The music and atmosphere on the night is always special."

This will be the seventh meeting between the two teams in European competition, with each of the previous six coming in the Champions League. After failing to win the first four, City defeated Madrid home and away in a last-16 tie in 2019-20, albeit the second leg was played behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sterling, however, insisted those past meetings will count for nothing as Guardiola looks to become the first manager to eliminate Madrid in three separate Champions League knockout ties.

"We know – not just from this season but from previous seasons and history – how good they are in this competition," Sterling said.

"They have scored late goals but we have players who have been in high-pressure games and we know how to deal with it. I think come tomorrow, we will be fine. 

"What's happened previously doesn't really matter. All that's in the past. All we can control is making sure we are prepared right. It's a game over two legs, we can't focus on their previous games, we focus on tomorrow at the Etihad."

Sterling has netted 24 goals for City in the Champions League. Among English players, only Wayne Rooney (30) has scored more times in the competition's history.

It is a record Sterling has an eye on.

"When you make your debut, then it's the next thing: score your first goal, and you always look to be better and improve," he added.

"As a forward, to be scoring and making assists is a massive thing. It's where you get your confidence from. That's what I am out there for.

"It's a team full of competition. It's the competition that makes you thrive. When you are performing you want to keep scoring and making assists. Sometimes you have to understand there's a lot of great players in the team. 

"I'm playing and contributing a lot more [compared to last season]. I am in a good mood, good spirits. The team is in the semi-finals of the Champions League and fighting for the title. I couldn't ask for much more. I am in good spirits.

"If I can get the English record, that's what I will do."

Sterling has recorded 20 goal contributions for City in all competitions this season (14 goals, six assists).

Manchester City will relish the "incredible test" of facing Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals as Pep Guardiola reminded his players they require two "exceptional" performances to reach the final.

Having eliminated Madrid from the Champions League in the 2010-11 semi-finals as Barcelona boss and in a 2019-20 last-16 tie with City, Guardiola could become the first coach to have knocked Los Blancos out of the competition three times.

City have also remained undefeated in their previous three home Champions League matches against Real Madrid (one win, two draws) ahead of Tuesday's crucial first leg at the Etihad Stadium.

However, while City are still awaiting their first European title after falling at the final hurdle against Chelsea last season, Madrid are aiming to be crowned kings of Europe for a 14th time this term, but Guardiola says his team will relish the "incredible test" of facing the Spanish champions-elect.

"If we had to compete with their history, we wouldn't have any chance – they are better," he said. "Their history speaks for itself. We have the desire to compete against them. For us, playing against them is an incredible test and we want to try it. We'll have to suffer, stick together, and try to do as best as possible.

"It would be the same against Bayern or Barcelona. They are a team many times in this position [the latter stages]. In the last decade we were almost never here, and now we are, which is good.

"The history's there, we cannot change it, but tomorrow we play 11 against 11, with one ball moving, and the players will decide. Of course, we'll play against players that have been in this position many times, even beyond, reaching finals and winning.

"We can imagine or plan what is going to happen but it's a game of 11 against 11. The players will make the difference, I don't think Carlo [Ancelotti] or myself will win this semi-final."

This will be the seventh meeting between City and Real Madrid in European competition, with each of the previous six coming in the Champions League since 2012-13. After failing to win the first four (two draws, two losses), the Premier League champions won both legs in the last-16 against them in this competition in 2019-20.

Guardiola, however, said City's most recent encounter with Madrid will count for nothing, highlighting the "tight" nature of that tie and cautioning that City need two "exceptional" performances to progress.

However, the 51-year-old also said competing with Madrid in the final four was an "honour" and praised his team for making it this far, telling them to enjoy the moment.

"When we went through against Real Madrid, it was tight, two tight games. We went out in the quarter-finals in other seasons when it was tight too," Guardiola added. "I always had the feeling, with Barcelona, with Bayern Munich and then here, of how nice it is being there in the latter stages with the best teams in the world.

"Now we have to try to be ourselves. We'll need two exceptional games to reach the final, and hopefully we can do it. It's not necessary to say how much we respect Real Madrid and how good they are. It's an honour.

"We want to reach the final and win the final, but I could never underestimate what we have [already] done and the fact that we are here.

"Two times in a row being in the semi-finals is so good. Many teams are not here, good ones. One day we will not be here because it is so demanding, and you have to be so precise. So I told the players to enjoy this moment, I don't know what's going to happen, you never know if we will ever be back in this position."

Guardiola has faced Ancelotti on six previous occasions, winning four and losing two. However, all four of his victories came when Ancelotti was at Everton, with the Italian winning their two Champions League meetings, both in the 2013-14 semi-finals (Real Madrid's 5-0 aggregate win over Bayern Munich).

Manchester City and Liverpool will put their epic Premier League title race on hold for a few days, as they have the small matter of the Champions League semi-finals to think about.

City are hoping to go one better than last year after losing in the final to Chelsea. Standing in their way in the last four are Real Madrid, who eliminated the holders in the quarter-finals and boast a striker in Karim Benzema who has 12 goals in nine Champions League appearances this season.

Also facing LaLiga opposition are Liverpool, though Villarreal are unlikely to be a team they expected to meet at this stage of the competition.

Led by a knockout football specialist in Unai Emery, Villarreal cannot be taken lightly by the Reds, even with Emery's men historically struggling in games in England.

Ahead of the first legs, Stats Perform digs into some of the best Opta numbers around the two semi-final ties.

Manchester City v Real Madrid

Madrid might just be beginning to feel it is their year after progressing from remarkable knockout ties against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.

However, the omens are against them ahead of their first leg with City. Los Blancos haven't won on any of their previous three trips to face Manchester City in European competition (two draws, one defeat), with the most recent two coming in the knockout stages of the Champions League – a 0-0 draw in the 2015-16 semi-final first leg and a 2-1 loss in the 2019-20 last-16 second leg.

Pep Guardiola won't need any additional motivation as he looks to finally end his wait for a Champions League triumph with City, and the Barcelona legend can complete a historic hat-trick by overseeing an elimination of Madrid.

Indeed, Guardiola has eliminated Madrid from the knockout stages of the Champions League on two previous occasions, beating them 3-1 on aggregate in the 2010-11 semi-finals with Barcelona and 4-2 on aggregate in the 2019-20 last-16 with City. He is looking to become the first manager to eliminate Madrid from the competition on three occasions.

Madrid won away from home in the first leg at Chelsea in the quarter-finals, their only victory in their last six away games against English teams in the Champions League. No team has ever beaten two different English sides away from home in the knockout stages in a single Champions League campaign.

Champions League history between the two managers, however, is with Madrid's Carlo Ancelotti. He and Guardiola have faced each other six times, with the City boss claiming four wins to Ancelotti's two.

However, all four of Guardiola's wins came with City against Ancelotti's Everton, while the Italian saw his Madrid side beat Guardiola's Bayern Munich in both legs of the 2013-14 Champions League semi-finals, claiming a 5-0 aggregate triumph. Such a one-sided tie is unlikely this time around.

Liverpool v Villarreal

Villarreal are arguably the story of the 2021-22 Champions League, having sensationally knocked out Juventus and Bayern Munich to reach this stage.

However, games in England have historically been a problem for the Yellow Submarine. Since a 2-1 victory over Everton back in August 2005, Villarreal haven't managed to win any of their last eight away games in England in all competitions (three draws, five defeats), tasting defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford in the group stages earlier this season.

Despite Villarreal's well-organised defensive set-up, a high-scoring game could well be in the offing. During his managerial career, Villarreal boss Emery has faced Liverpool five times (once with Sevilla and four times with Arsenal), with those matches producing 26 goals (5.2 per game on average), and both teams netting in each.

Liverpool will be the clear favourites to do the majority of that goalscoring. Of the 12 sides to have reached the semi-finals of the European Cup/Champions League on at least five occasions, only Benfica (seven wins from eight) and Milan (10/12) have a higher ratio of progressing to the final than Liverpool (82%), who have managed to reach the final on nine of their previous 11 semi-final appearances.

Although Liverpool possess serious depth in attack with Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz playing significant roles, Mohamed Salah is still the obvious candidate to be their talisman.

Only in 2017-18 (10) has Salah scored more Champions League goals in a single campaign than the eight he has scored this season, moving his tally for the club onto 33. The Egyptian is just three behind both Didier Drogba (Chelsea) and Sergio Aguero (Man City) for the most goals netted in the competition for an English side (both 36).

Yet Emery's track record in Europe should have Liverpool fans nervous that he could be the man to dash their quadruple dreams.

The only European meeting between Emery and Liverpool was the 2016 Europa League final, in which Emery's Sevilla side beat Klopp's Reds 3-1. On top of that, since the start of the 2009-10 season, the year of the inaugural UEFA Europa League campaign, Emery has progressed from 84 per cent of his Europa League/Champions League knockout ties (31/37).

That is second-best ratio of any manager to have taken charge of at least 10 ties, after only Zinedine Zidane (14/16 – 88%).

Harry Kane insists Tottenham must win their five remaining Premier League games to qualify for the Champions League.

Antonio Conte's Spurs are embroiled in a fight for fourth with rivals Arsenal, who are two points ahead after defeating Manchester United 3-1 before Tottenham were held by Brentford later on Saturday.

That capped a damaging two-game spell for Conte's side, after losing to Brighton and Hove Albion at home last week.

Spurs also failed to register a single shot on target across the games against Brighton and Brentford, having previously scored in 14 consecutive halves of Premier League football.

The north London pair meet in a rearranged fixture in the penultimate week of the season, which could decide who finishes fourth, and Kane urged Tottenham to collect maximum points from their final five games.

Spurs face Leicester City and Liverpool before concluding their campaign against Burnley and Norwich City after the meeting with Mikel Arteta's Gunners on May 12.

"To only get one point from those two games [Brighton and Brentford] is disappointing," Kane told Standard Sport. "We're running out of games in terms of dropping points.

"There are five games left and we feel like we are pretty much going to have to win all of them to get that spot. We are more than capable of doing that, we believe in that and that is what we'll try and do.

"Is it still in our hands? Yeah. If we win the last five games we will be in the Champions League, so that is how we've got to look at it."

Kane – who is set to lead England at the World Cup later this year – also acknowledged the difficult task of facing quadruple-chasing Liverpool at Anfield, while Burnley are fighting relegation, although Norwich will likely be consigned to the Championship by the final day.

"We know those five games will be difficult, we go to Liverpool away as well which will be very tough," he added.

"As we've seen this season, we have dropped points against teams where we were probably expected to win and so have the others around us. It is by all means not done yet.

"We have to stay focused and keep working hard. We have a little gap now to prepare and work and hopefully, we can put in a good performance against Leicester [on Sunday].

"It has been a long season and we've definitely had ups and downs this season. I think we've done great to put ourselves in this position we're in now but it is about who can finish it off.

"That is the most important thing in football. Hopefully, it is us, we will work as hard as we can to make sure it is us and get that Champions League spot."

Virgil van Dijk insists Liverpool will not listen to suggestions they are favourites against Villarreal when the two sides meet in the Champions League semi-finals.

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool defeated Benfica while Villarreal rallied past Bayern Munich to reach the final four and set up just the third meeting between the two teams in European competition.

The Reds will boast home advantage in the first leg on Wednesday, Villarreal having not managed victory in any of their past eight away games in England in all competitions since August 2005.

That last triumph on English soil was over fellow Merseysiders Everton, who Liverpool defeated 2-0 on Sunday to keep their Premier League title and quadruple hopes alive.

While Klopp's team have impressed on all fronts this season, winning the EFL Cup and reaching the FA Cup final as well, Van Dijk warned that Unai Emery's side will pose a threat.

"No, these are press debates that we prefer not to listen to," he told Spanish outlet EFE when asked if Liverpool were favourites. 

"We don't listen if they tell us that we're favourites or not. We will play on Wednesday as we try to play every game, that is, going out to try to win and, if we can, reach the final. 

"Villarreal are a great team, with great fans and a great coach. We really want these two games to start now.

"It will be very difficult because Villarreal is a very difficult team. Obviously, I have seen the games against Bayern Munich and they are a fantastic team defensively.

"The players work hard, have a lot of experience and, above all, play like a collective. In this round only the best remain. There is no easy rival in a semi-final.

"We are aware of the difficulty of these games and these rivals. The return there in Spain is going to be very hard and we expect it to be very intense."

Gerard Moreno has registered four assists in the Champions League this term, with only three players managing more. Indeed, since 2003-04, this is the joint-most by a Spanish player in their debut campaign in the competition, along with Gabi (2013-14) and Isaac Cuenca (2011-12).

Meanwhile, only Karim Benzema (15) has created more secondary chances – the pass played before the ball that sets up a shot or goal – than Dani Parejo (14), highlighting his influence in building Villarreal's attacks, and Van Dijk pinpointed the dangerous pair.

"[Their] central defenders are incredible. Raul Albiol and Pau Torres. They are very experienced and fantastic," the Netherlands international added. 

"Then in the centre of the pitch they have the calm and the touch of Parejo and up top Gerard Moreno [if he is fit] is very fast and can surprise you. 

"We already know a lot about [Arnaut] Danjuma from his time at Bournemouth. It's going to be a very complicated match-up, but this is the Champions League semi-final. We knew it wasn't going to be easy."

Along with the talent on the pitch, Klopp will also face off against Emery, who has progressed from 84 per cent of his Europa League and Champions League knockout ties (31/37) since the start of the 2009-10 season.

Only former Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane (14/16 – 88 per cent) boasts a better win rate in that period among managers to take charge of at least 10 games, and Klopp will be looking to make amends after Emery’s Sevilla beat Klopp’s Liverpool 3-1 in the 2016 Europa League final.

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