CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Manchester City vs Real Madrid: Champions League preview

All the latest news and information ahead of the second leg of the Champions League last-16 tie between Manchester City and Real Madrid.

Manchester City vs Real Madrid: Champions League preview
MICHAEL REGAN AFP

The Champions League has been the priority for Manchester City this year and a 2-1 first leg victory in Madrid leaves them with a good chance of reaching the finals tournament in Lisbon. Pep Guardiola was brought in in 2016 with the hope that the former Barcelona boss, who was a European champion three times during his career as a player and manager with the club, would be the man to bring continental success. However even Guardiola is now suffering something of a Champions League drought having not lifted the biggest prize in club football since 2012.

Manchester City vs Real Madrid: match preview

City’s 2019/20 league campaign was an underwhelming one but their form since the restart suggests that they may be back to their best after a number of impressive performances. Guardiola’s men have recorded four 5-0 victories since the Premier League returned, as well as a 4-0 thrashing of champions Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium. Most importantly for a team with such attacking promise, their defence has looked more resolute since the return of Aymeric Laporte and they have kept seven clean sheets in their last nine league fixtures. If they can keep another one on Friday, or even limit Real to a single goal, they will be through to the quarter-finals.

They will be without the injured Sergio Agüero but the presence of Kevin de Bruyne in midfield guarantees plenty of opportunities for City’s forwards and the Belgian comes into the game off the back of an exceptional individual season. He equalled the Premier League record for most assists in a single season (20) and has been involved in 38 goals in all competitions (15 goals and 23 assists). He was Man of the Match in the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu and assisted and scored as City turned the game around in the final stages.

It was a LaLiga season of two halves for Real Madrid but one that ended with glory as the club picked up just their third league title of the last 12 years. The team that won three consecutive titles in Zinedine Zidane’s first stint as manager has gradually given way to a more pragmatic side built on an incredibly mean defence. Real conceded just 25 goals in 38 LaLiga matches and their 19 clean sheets equalled the club’s record for a single league campaign. Their more defensive set-up has helped make up for the understandable drop in goal-scoring since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo who fired the club to three Champions League triumphs during Zidane’s first spell in charge.

Real are now more reliant on Karim Benzema for goals and he has delivered this season, with Zidane claiming recently that the striker would have been a worthy winner of the Ballon d’Or this year. The Frenchman has scored 26 in all competitions so far this campaign and he will need to be on form at the Etihad if Real are to score the two goals that they need to stand a chance of progressing. City’s defence has improved in recent months but it remains vulnerable and Benzema will look to exploit the space behind Guardiola’s attacking full-backs.

As has been the case since the restart, levels of preparation and match fitness could be the difference between the two sides on the night. City’s most recent game was a comfortable 5-0 victory over Norwich City on the final day of the Premier League season and they will face a very different proposition on Friday. Madrid’s last fixture came a week earlier so they have had more time to prepare, but after 18 days without competitive action Zidane will hope his team are rested and not rusty.

Manchester City vs Real Madrid: injuries and suspensions

City will be without Sergio Agüero so Guardiola may opt to play Bernardo Silva in a false nine role, as worked so effectively in the first leg in Madrid. They will also be without Benjamin Mendy who picked up a yellow card at the Bernabeu and will miss out due to suspension. Joao Cancelo is the most likely option to replace him at left-back.

On Thursday Guardiola revealed that Eric Garcia would not be signing a new deal at the club, so looks likely to be left out of the starting XI to face Real.

The visitors are also missing a talismanic figure after Sergio Ramos picked up the 26thred card of his Real Madrid career in the first leg, with 22-year-old Eder Militao the most likely to take his place. Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez have not travelled with the team to Manchester as speculation continues to surround their futures at the club.

Mariano Diaz is also definitely out after testing positive for Covid-19 a week ago. Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard have both been training in recent weeks after recovering from injuries that have plagued much of their seasons, but it remains to be seen if they will be favoured over Vinicius Junior in the wide positions.

Manchester City vs Real Madrid: what the managers said

Pep Guardiola (Manchester City): “You can set up a certain way but the way the game develops dictates how you will play. We want to impose our own style, whether we are defending or playing on the counter or Madrid are countering. We want to take the game to certain areas of the field where we can hurt Madrid and show the qualities of our players.”

Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid): “It’s going to be great match between two excellent teams. It’s a final, so if we want to get to the final we have to win this.

“The team is in good shape, we’ve known for a long time what we have to do… Hazard was feeling an injury towards the end of the season but now he is ok and full of confidence.”

Prediction: City have had little to play for in the Premier League since the restart but they will need to be at their best if they are to progress past Real Madrid on Friday. The visitors have been in great form and if they can stifle City’s attack they have a good chance of scoring the goals they need to stage a comeback. However after nearly three weeks without football there will likely be a drop-off in Real’s performance and City’s one-goal advantage from the first leg should be enough to see them through to Lisbon. Man City 1-1 Real Madrid (3-2)