Venue: Etihad Stadium
Date: 26 April 2016
Referee: Cüneyt Çakir (TUR)
Kick off: 19:45
We have Ferran Soriano. We have Txiki Begiristain. Soon, we’ll have Pep Guardiola. Next up, on this club’s enduring quest to attain the notoriety of FC Barcelona, are Real Madrid: the Catalan’s fiercest rivals. Perhaps this will be the most important match in the history of Manchester City Football Club.
Think bigger than Paul Dickov’s strike at Wembley in 1999. Think bigger (if it’s possible) than Martin Tyler’s stentorious commentary when Agüero’s bullet hit the back of the net on 93 minutes, 20 seconds. People remember league winners, but history never forgets European champions. City are three games away from boasting that title.
The team that have won the Champions League more than any other club stand in our way. It’s strange that Europe’s most successful club are, in 2016, despite scoring 104 goals in 35 La Liga games and 26 in their 10 European fixtures this term, considered to be the most vulnerable opponent of the three teams we could have met in the semi-finals.
Strange, but true. Bayern Munich are the most organised team left and have a manager, in Guardiola, who can mastermind a 4-2 victory from what may have looked like a nailed on 2-0 defeat. He showed that against Juventus. Atlético Madrid, on the other hand, are defensively excellent and have a player in Antoine Griezmann who can punish unproductiveness in front of goal. Not even Barcelona, equipped with the lethal MSN, could break down their walls while they had 11 men on the pitch. Real Madrid are an entirely different proposition altogether. While their attack is capable of devastation, their defence can be shaky and we should fancy ourselves against a side who often leave themselves so open at the back.
Underestimating Los Blancos, however, is not what I’m doing here. While Lionel Messi may be the best football player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo is the best athlete and goalscorer the game’s ever seen and he’ll be fit to play on Tuesday night, despite picking up an injury last week, according to his teammate Gareth Bale. Asked whether Ronaldo, who has netted eight more goals than any other player in the tournament this season, would be available to play at the Etihad, Bale said: “Yeah, I think so…hopefully.” Let’s face it, there’s no way he’s missing this one, and he’s certainly capable of winning it on his own.
Bale, of course, carries a threat of his own. I remember that time in April 2013 when he returned from a long injury to absolutely crucify us at White Hart Lane. We lost 3-1 that day and Bale put in a performance that ultimately sealed his world record move to Madrid at the end of that season. You’d have to say that’s been money well spent despite his numerous injuries and the Welshman is currently enjoying his best campaign at the Bernabéu. No longer just a direct winger blessed with a stunning turn of pace, Bale is now a physical specimen capable of dominating his opponents in the air as well as on the floor. He’s an excellent player, one we should definitely be wary of tomorrow.
We’ve got our own big boys, though. Vincent Kompany and Kevin De Bruyne were given rests in the 4-0 win over Stoke on Saturday and you feel both will be important to our chances of getting through these two games. De Bruyne was the man against PSG and Kompany’s return makes everyone feel a little more comfortable about the proposition of CR7. For me, Vinny has to start alongside the in form Mangala, regardless of Otamendi’s experience in the Spanish top flight. Yaya Touré is injured, and though many predicted that the Ivorian wouldn’t start in this anyway, it’s possible that we may miss his ability to calm the game or score a goal out of nowhere. He’d be a great option from the bench.
Manuel wants “hot hearts and cold minds” against Madrid, an approach that worked to perfection in the quarter finals against Paris Saint Germain. We soaked up the pressure brilliantly in that tie and hit them when we really needed to. Real Madrid, likie Paris, are likely to dominate the possession – and that may well suit us. Stopping their front three from scoring, however, will be an incredibly difficult task.
Playing at home in the first leg may be a disadvantage, but there’ll be a booming atmosphere at a sold out Etihad tomorrow night. This is the last Champions League encounter the stadium will see until next season, so let’s make it a memorable one.
Predict the score:
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