Real Madrid are delighted to have reached the Champions League semi-finals after the criticism and lack of faith shown towards them for most of the season, said manager Carlo Ancelotti.
The thirteen-times European champions are preparing to face Manchester City in the first leg on Tuesday.
“I surely remember what all the pundits were saying at the beginning of the season,” the Italian told a news conference at the Etihad Stadium on Monday.
“There are clearly two teams in the semi-finals that everyone was betting against and they are us and Villarreal.
“Two teams got here as underdogs, (Real) beating favourites like Paris St Germain, the holders Chelsea, (Villarreal knocking out) Juventus and Bayern Munich. I always say that Real Madrid are going to compete no matter what against anyone.”
Villarreal face Liverpool at Anfield in their semi-final first leg on Wednesday.
Ancelotti said there were mixed feelings in the Real dressing room — happiness at getting this far but worries about the pressure of facing difficult opponents in Premier League leaders City, the English champions.
“Our history, having won 13 titles in this competition, makes things easier for the players because they feel how heavy in a positive way the Real Madrid jersey weighs in a Champions League game,” Ancelotti said.
“They feel capable of anything, like they did fighting back to qualify against PSG and Chelsea. Real Madrid’s history means a lot to us. More than for the rivals.”
Real midfielder Federico Valverde agreed.
“When you wear this shirt you want to win it all and you feel like you are always the favourite to win it all, despite what other people think,” Valverde, 23, told a news conference.
“It’s a responsibility but it’s an advantage because your rivals will always look at you differently because you’re Real Madrid. I agree with what (City manager) Pep Guardiola said earlier (that his side have to compete with the history of Real Madrid). Our history weighs heavily.”
Ancelotti has question marks over the fitness of three players for Tuesday’s game. Left back Ferland Mendy trained well on Sunday and should be available but there are doubts about how ready left back David Alaba and midfielder Casemiro will be.
“We feel more confident and optimistic with Alaba. We’ll see how he performs in training later on Monday. But Casemiro is still recovering and if he can’t go on Tuesday, he should be available for next week no doubt about it,” he said.