Real Madrid wanted to avoid ‘world’s best’ Manchester City, admits Rodrygo

Estimated read time 4 min read

The Real Madrid forward Rodrygo has described Manchester City as the world’s best team and admitted he and his teammates did not want to face them in the Champions League quarter-finals.

But the Brazilian also claimed before Tuesday’s first leg at the Bernabéu that City were keen to avoid playing Madrid. The clubs meet for a third successive season, City having won last year’s semi-final to avenge Madrid’s dramatic triumph at the same stage in 2022, when Rodrygo scored twice in stoppage time to pave the way for Karim Benzema’s extra-time winner.

“It brings back good memories but also bad ones,” Rodrygo said of the latest tie. “This was an opponent that, to be honest, we didn’t want to face. And they think the same as well: they didn’t want to play against us. It’s a game that everyone expects to be the final, but it’s going to be now. Man City are very good, but our team is also very strong. It’s going to be good to meet them again.”

Madrid are eight points clear at the top of La Liga, whereas City are in a tight three-way Premier League title fight, but Rodrygo believes Pep Guardiola’s side present the toughest possible challenge. “Without a doubt,” he said. “They’re the Champions League winners, they’re the world champions, today they’re the best team in the world, so we have total respect for them.

“There are no bad or medium [City] players. There’s no player you can think of like: ‘This one I’m going to press because he isn’t good and he will give us a goal or a great chance.’ They have a very good control of the game and of the ball. It’s a very beautiful game, a very difficult team. It’s very annoying to play against them but I believe in our team.”

Rodrygo says his extraordinary impact from the bench against City two years ago changed the way opponents treat him. He came on in the 68th minute of the second leg with Madrid trailing 5-3 on aggregate, scored twice in 90 seconds and provided the cross that led to the decisive penalty.

Rodrygo savours the moment after scoring the goal that forced extra time against Manchester City in 2022.View image in fullscreen

“Today I feel that when I get close to the area, the defenders pull me back, mark me, watch me,” he said. “I get annoyed by this because I never get free, without a defender with me, any more. Sometimes a teammate is in the area and nobody goes to mark him because they’re on me.

“That game changed a lot of things in my life. My status in football changed a lot after those two goals. People started looking at me with different eyes. The two goals were a step forward in my career.”

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Rodrygo, who sensed in last season’s semi-final that City “were more focused because they remembered what had happened”, rejected the chance in 2017 to join Liverpool in a €3m transfer from Santos. He moved to Madrid two years later.

“We didn’t close the deal because I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay at Santos even though the offer was very good. The pathway they promised me would also have been very good for my career. I was going to finish my studies in England to prepare for European football.

“It had always been my dream to play in Europe. Everything was very good, but my desire spoke louder. I wanted to stay at Santos and make a bit of history at the club. And that’s what happened: I was able to fulfil my dream of playing for Santos. But it’s true, I almost went to Liverpool.”


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