After battling to a goalless draw at home in the first leg, Manchester City head to the Bernabeu for one of the biggest matches in their history as they aim to overcome Real Madrid and earn a place in the Champions League final.
In theory, the match between the sides a little over a week ago had the makings of a classic, but in the end it turned out – for the neutral at least – to be something of a damp squib. It was a game that was moribund of any real entertainment and indeed quality, as both sides were guilty of giving the ball away unforgivably cheaply throughout, while with so much at stake there was plenty of caution in the air.
The goalless draw that ensued will have been viewed with a degree of contentment by City in particular, although it does mean they are likely to have to score in this second leg to have a chance of reaching Milan on May 28. As the game wore on at the Etihad Stadium they looked increasingly vulnerable as Real Madrid looked to turn the screw, with Joe Hart making two vital saves to prove his worth to the side and deprive their opponents of that all-important away goal.
This one will made all the tougher by the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo, who has recovered from injury and is set to feature. The absence of the Portuguese superstar perhaps took something away from the first leg, but after his heroics in helping his side make it through to this stage, he will be hoping to add to his record Champions League goals tally. The Man City defence will need to put in the performance of their lives, led by the reassuring colossus that is captain Vincent Kompany.
From a City standpoint, there will certainly be changes to the starting line-up from the desperately below-par display at Southampton on Sunday. Manuel Pellegrini’s selection for that one was a clear indication that he is prioritising the Champions League, so several players will be restored. David Silva will not be, having suffered a hamstring injury in the first leg, so either Raheem Sterling or the in-form Kalechi Iheanacho will start out on the left.
The key here for Pellegrini is to set his team up in a compact manner and look to attain whatever they can on the counter-attack through the quality of Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero. They cannot afford to be as defensively naive as they were in the away leg of their quarter-final against Paris St. Germain, a night where they were not punished for their deficiencies. With Ronaldo around as well as Karim Benzema, it may just take one mistake to have City’s work cut out. If they can pull this off, City will finally know that they are good enough to win Europe’s biggest prize.