The last time Real Madrid visited the Etihad, Manchester City crashed out of the group stages, bottom of the group. A late, contentious Kun Aguero penalty was barely enough to save our blushes.
This time, Manchester City have a chance make history, yet again, against a Real Madrid that barely scraped past Wolfsburg to get to the semi-finals. Zinedine Zidane may have reinvigorated Rafa Benitez’s ailing side and indeed deserves credit for keeping them competing on both fronts yet any casual viewer of his side will tell you that this Real team can be got at.
Hi David, thanks for coming on. First off, how would you assess Real Madrid’s season? It looked like a lost cause at one point but now there’s a real chance they could claim the two big trophies.
Real Madrid’s season has to be looked at in two ways. With Rafa, and with Zidane. They appointed badly in Rafael Benitez on many levels, particularly given how his coaching style didn’t fit with the current squad shape and also his personality didn’t mesh with the current group. There was always going to be friction and the outcome was the least surprising thing of this season. We saw a Real Madrid team lacking personality, and lacking enjoyment when they took the pitch. Zidane was the antidote to that and has turned around a season meandering. The players play with more energy now, and in turn they have grown stronger. However, Barcelona’s collapse made them look better than they are, despite a good Clasico win. Yes, they made the ground up, but it was Barça’s own doing as opposed to Real Madrid cooking on gas.
What have you made of Zidane since his appointment? Has he surprised you?
Zidane came in, and changed all the negative features Rafa had created. He spoke to the players in a better manner, being a former player at the club himself in a major capacity. He knew a few egos needed massaging, he knew they needed to be let off the leash a little more on the pitch. He’s done it all well so far. I’m surprised because he disappointed me immensely at Castilla (Real Madrid’s B team).
Who do you think the City defence will fear the most on Tuesday? Real’s front three are in red-hot form.
I think Gareth Bale is in marvellous form, and is showing he can take responsibility in this team when required. Karim Benzema for me remains one of the best strikers in the world, he actually doesn’t get enough credit. He never has. Cristiano Ronaldo has shown an immense level of character to come back after many feared he was entering into a decline. He’s moved away from this CF role and become a threat from out wide again. It’s quite something. He looks dangerous and hungry again. I do think Benzema poses the biggest threat however. He’s such a livewire, a wonderful mover, and takes up important positions that a complete CF should. City must watch him, because the other two play off him, they come into action largely when Benzema does something for them.
Moving further back, Luka Modric is the man that makes Real Madrid tick. There needs to be pressing on him, make him rush the pass, cut out his passing angles, don’t let him have too much time to think. That should be City’s number one priority.
So what have you made of Manchester City this season? It almost feels like that there are two different teams that turn up in the league and in Europe.
City are a strange one. They should be much closer in the league. I know fitness has been an issue again, the team looks worn out at times, but they needed to be better than this. I’ve seen them come apart too much for a supposedly big side. The Spurs game stands out, that was appalling from City, as good as Pochettino’s men were. Pellegrini’s a nice guy and a solid coach, but he’s not got a ruthless mentality. He’s a touch soft at times, and doesn’t take enough risks. I saw it at Villarreal and Malaga a lot. He lacks personality at the very top level. I see why City decided to change things how they did. Guardiola will address all this when he comes in – because he’s such an intense, demanding guy – but City need to compete more in terms of the squad. City’s squad actually isn’t that good, and they need more quality. Better players in key positions, better cover. The best do that, the best compete on all fronts and to do that you need more aggression in the market for high level players.
Line-up and score prediction?
2-1 to Real Madrid over the two legs. 1-1 at Etihad, 1-0 at Bernabeu.