|Venue of events: Etihad Stadium, Manchester Date: Tuesday 26 April (20:00 BST)|
|Coverage: BBC Radio 5 Live commentary and live text updates on the BBC Sport website and app from 18:45 BST|
It’s not hard to identify the biggest threat to Manchester City’s chances of advancing to the Champions League final.
Karim Benzema is having a breakout season for Real Madrid, with back-to-back hat-tricks against Paris St-Germain and Chelsea suggesting the 34-year-old French striker is ready to inherit his former teammate’s ‘Mr Champions League’ mantle. Cristiano Ronaldo team. .
But Benzema isn’t the only 30-something Real Madrid star who continues to improve with age, as midfield maestro Luka Modric, now 36, is also having another superb campaign.
In fact, it could be argued that Modric is even more important to Real Madrid’s overall structure than Benzema, because his dual ability to build play from behind and create danger in the opposition box is critical to the consistency and fluidity of the team.
The Croatian has certainly made a big mark in this season’s Champions League, giving a glorious assist to Rodrygo with the outside of his right foot to force extra time in the quarter-final second leg against Chelsea.
That magical moment was dubbed the “pass of the decade” by former Rangers forward Ally McCoist, while pundit Rio Ferdinand declared it should be “illegal.” Spanish sports newspaper Marca wrote: “With Modric on the pitch, nothing is impossible. Build him a statue now!”
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is another to sing his praises, saying Modric should be considered for another Ballon d’Or after shining against Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup final in January.
The ‘Benjamin Button’ of European football
Part of what lies behind the long list of tributes to Modric is the feeling that it simply shouldn’t be possible for him to perform so brilliantly at the age of 36.
That sense of disbelief at his fitness surfaced again when he was filmed celebrating in the locker room after last month’s comeback victory over PSG, apparently still full of energy despite covering more ground (10.54km) than any other Real Madrid player.
The midfielder’s age is even a joke within the team: Modric is just a year younger than winger Rodrygo’s father, a former professional player in his native Brazil, and the pair have jokingly adopted the respective nicknames ‘son’ and ‘son’. ‘dad’ for each. another, with Rodrygo even wishing his teammate a Happy Father’s Day on social media last month.
At the end of last season, Sports newspaper AS described Modric as “Benjamin Button” -in reference to Brad Pitt’s film about a man who ages backwards- after noting with disbelief that he had played 57 games for Real and Croatia throughout the campaign, completing the full 90 minutes in 33 of them.
And he hasn’t slowed down since then, playing 44 games so far this season to make the idea he could keep playing into his 40s, as suggested in a recent interview with AS by Vlatko Vucetic, a Croatian fitness specialist who works closely with Modric – don’t seem so ridiculous.
However long it continues, Modric’s position in Real Madrid’s history books is already assured.
The best midfielder in the history of Real?
After arriving from Tottenham in 2012, his first season was relatively disappointing as José Mourinho’s reign fell apart.
But Carlo Ancelotti’s (first) arrival at Real Madrid in 2013 made Modric an immediate key player, and he concluded that campaign by contributing to one of the most famous moments in the club’s history: delivering an accurate corner for the Sergio Ramos tied in stoppage time. pave the way for a 4-1 victory in the Champions League final over Atletico Madrid, the club’s tenth in the competition.
Since then, Modric has been an indispensable member of Los Blancos’ midfield, winning three more Champions Leagues and taking the Ballon d’Or after the most recent of those triumphs in 2018, the same year that inspired Croatia’s run to the final. of the World Cup. .
It has certainly helped that most of his time in Spain has been spent as one-third of an exceptional trio alongside Toni Kroos and Casemiro, who have made a staggering combined 1,114 appearances in the famous white shirt (Modric 429, Kroos 357). , Casemiro 328) to undoubtedly become one of the best central defenders of all time.
They have been so successful together because they complement each other perfectly: Casemiro’s potent defensive instincts, Kroos’s metronomic passing and Modric’s energy and cunning provide everything a midfielder could need.
Modric, however, is the one who has produced the regular magical moments of creative brilliance to really stand out, and now he probably only has Zinedine Zidane, whose playing career at the Bernabéu was much shorter, as a serious rival for the status of The best midfielder in the history of the club.
And the past few months have made it clear that it’s not over yet. To flip the old truism about emerging teen talent on its head, if you’re good enough, you’re young enough. And Modric, who made his professional debut when City’s Phil Foden was three, remains one of his best.