Ask the Opposition

Ask the Opposition 25 – Real Madrid

A single game, tomorrow, at the Bernabeu will define Manchester City’s season. Pellegrini and many of his boys in blue know full well that their legacy at Manchester City rests on the rest of this Champions League campaign. A score draw is all that will suffice to secure a trip to Milan but a defeat would mean City would have turn towards the thankless, tedious task of securing their place in the competition for next season.

In their way stands a formidable, albeit injury-ravaged, Los Blancos team. To get a better picture of Real Madrid, we spoke to La Liga expert and Yahoo Sport UK writer Andrew Gaffney.

Hi Andrew, great to have you on. Okay first off, did you ever think Manchester City would make it this far in the competition?

Thank you for the invite. If you had asked me at the start of the competition I’d have said unlikely but, in the same way, it doesn’t greatly surprise me either. City have a very strong squad and due to their, in want of a better expression, ‘quick rise’ to the top they’ve ultimately had to do it the hard way in every campaign apart from this one due to their low cofficient.

To finish top of a group featuring Juventus is no fluke and that has allowed them to avoid the biggest sides until now. Fans of Paris Saint Germain might complain about that statement but they compete in a league that it so easy they won the title by the middle of March. City held their nerve in the return leg which showed another side to their game, as they’ve been caught out in the Premier League with some poor defending this season – especially against the stronger teams – but didn’t wilt under the pressure.

What did you make of the first leg? Do City have the upper-hand?

It’s a tricky one but I’d have to say no. I think you need to win your home leg in this competition so that when you go away the opposition are forced to play on the front foot allowing space in behind the defence to counter. The plus side is while they didn’t find the back of the net, nor did Real Madrid.

We all know how strong Real Madrid are at home this season as they’ve won 20 out of 23 matches in the Santiago Bernabeu. In fact, they’ve yet to concede a goal at home in the Champions League while scoring 18 themselves. That record alone makes Madrid favourites.

What have you made of Real Madrid since Zinedine Zidane’s appointment? Has he squashed all pre-conceived doubts?

I’ll admit I was concerned as it was a break from the norm when it comes to managerial appointments under Florentino Perez. He usually goes for established names that he believes will command the respect of a demanding changing room. Although to be fair, there’s no doubting the respect Zidane holds amongst those at Real Madrid from the academy right up to the board of directors.

There are still doubts over this Real Madrid side in terms of balance but that has been addressed to a degree with Isco and James Rodriguez spending more time on the bench and Casemiro sitting ahead of the defence, allowing Modric and Kroos more freedom to control the midfield. Whereas the egos and leaks of discontent caused Rafa Benitez to lose his position as head coach, the same choices haven’t produced even a peep out of same personnel under Zidane. He deserves credit for that, but perhaps it’s due to the power he yields that players are more respectful to him than they were to Benitez.

A summer of change is needed, whether the transfer ban is appealed or quashed, and it’ll be the first real test of Zidane’s power in regards to incomings/outgoings. So far, so good though.

Manchester City’s best performances this season have come away in Europe. With Real having to take the game to City, do you think that will favour us?

I think it favours both side and ultimately the neutrals. Of course, it’s worth remembering City won on their last visit to Spain and in an equally as tough place to visit: the Sanchez Pizjuan. But if truth be told it was at a time when Sevilla weren’t at their best and City ran out worthy winners.

Real Madrid are a completely different animal though and while it’s true City have the quality in attack to hurt Real, playing on the front foot would be just as dangerous. Bale and Cristiano are likely to hang around the half way line and bounce whenever a City attack breaks down, but an early goal for the visitors could put the cat amongst the pigeons and force the Bernabeu crowd to worry as opposed to roar their side on.

Line-up and score prediction?

Zidane admitted that Casemiro and Benzema wouldn’t be available but Cristiano has been passed fit. I’d expect Navas, Marcelo, Pepe, Ramos and to start. It’s been hard to predict who will start at right back but I think Danilo could get the nod ahead of Carvajal with Real looking to strike early. Without Casemiro it’s likely Kroos will sit deeper with Modric slightly further forward. Isco seems the most obvious choice to come in ahead of James and he’ll complete the midfield three. Cristiano and Bale are certain starters and the only decision for Zidane is whether he plays one of those up front with Lucas Vazquez, who has been in great form recently, on the wing or Jese as the main striker.

As for a score prediction I can’t see anything but a Real Madrid win, sorry guys, but I do think City will score. 3-1 to Real.

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