Pellegrini's City, Zidane's Madrid
The City of Pellegrini, Agüero, Silva, Navas and Co. await Real in what'll be a tough test; tougher than Wolfsburg, where they were sent packing with a bad result that they then fought back from for a cracking remontada. So they go to the Etihad with plenty of warning, aware their strength is also their shortcoming: a fantastic forward trio who pack a fearsome punch in front of goal, but - barring exceptional cases - aren't given to tracking back. Not so long ago, the problem was more serious as, on top of that, the three behind them were all attacking by trade. Now, with a natural midfield anchor in there in Casemiro, the issue has been allayed somewhat.
Madrid won at the Camp Nou because the front three worked back in a way they never tend to. More of the same is required tonight. The snag, however, is that Real have had to nurse two of them, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, back for the clash. So much so that Zinedine Zidane has again drafted in Borja Mayoral just in case; though if Benzema doesn't make it (he looks the one in more delicate a state) he'll maybe opt for Lucas Vázquez instead. The squad's revelation this term, he works hard in the middle of the park and attacks with persistence and real threat. He's not played a lot, but when he has he's always done well in every department.
One man who's done well and has played a lot is Keylor Navas, who I imagine will be stretched by City today. He started the campaign in sparkling form, working miracles that maintained the illusion of 'balance'. Groin trouble saw him dip slightly, but he didn't take long to get back to his heroic best. With him at one end, the side's firepower at the other, Casemiro holding the midfield intelligently and Luka Modric's metronomic playmaking, Real hit the season's business end a true force. And if Dani Carvajal is there too, so much the better. He's been kept out with muscle issues (how many more can Real get this term?) but one assumes he'll play. Let's hope so.
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