Manchester City vs Real Madrid: Champions League Preview and Prediction
After what feels like forever, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, Europe’s premier club competition, the UEFA Champions League, is back with a bang. Real Madrid, the 2019-20 La Liga champions and the most successful team in the tournament, look to overturn a 1-2 deficit against Manchester City.
Los Blancos will enter this game with much greater confidence than they would have had it been played in March. Zinedine Zidane’s men raised their performances post-lockdown and after pipping FC Barcelona for the league title, they would fancy their chances against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
The Cityzens relinquished the Premier League title to Liverpool this season and were also eliminated in the FA Cup semi-finals by eventual champions, Arsenal. Guardiola’s men did win the League Cup earlier this season but the Champions League is the ultimate prize that they are chasing. Fans expect Manchester City to give it their all in this competition and this game presents the best canvas for the team.
How the teams fared after resumption
Real Madrid, along with Bayern Munich, were the best performing teams in Europe once football resumed in June.
Los Blancos played 11 times once football resumed and did not lose once. Their 10-game win streak, on the back of a miserly defense, helped them upstage an inconsistent FC Barcelona to win the 2019-20 La Liga title.
City did not have as great a post-lockdown campaign as Real Madrid. In 12 games, Guardiola’s side won nine and lost three.
Their most emphatic win was a 4-0 mauling of then newly crowned Premier League champions Liverpool.
On the flip side, Guardiola’s men lost to Southampton and Chelsea in the Premier League, as well as Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinal.
Last time out
Manchester City defeated Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg of this Champions League round of 16 fixture.
The hosts opened the scoring via Isco in the 60th minute but City responded 18 minutes later through Gabriel Jesus. Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos conceded a penalty in the 86th minute and was given his marching orders.
Kevin de Bruyne did the needful from the spot to give City the lead and two important away goals.
Sergio Aguero will be missing in action for Manchester City. The Argentine injured his knee in the 5-0 thrashing of Burnley on July 11 and is out for a long time. Guardiola, however, has hinted that he could return should City proceed to the later stages of the Champions League.
Benjamin Mendy will also play no part as he is suspended for this tie.
Los Merengues will be without their inspirational and evergreen captain, Ramos. The Spaniard’s defensive pairing with Raphael Varane was key to wresting the La Liga crown from FC Barcelona’s hands and his presence will surely be missed in the Madrid camp.
Mariano Diaz will also not be taking any part in this match. The Real Madrid forward tested positive for COVID-19 a week ago. Doubts also linger over Marcelo’s availability.
Kevin de Bruyne vs Casemiro
Two of the most in-form midfielders going up against each other will be a treat to watch.
De Bruyne had the best individual season of his career. The Belgian’s unparalleled creativity was there for all to witness as he equaled Thierry Henry’s record of 20 assists in a single Premier League season. It also earned him the distinction of having topped the assists chart in both England and Germany.
The former VfL Wolfsburg midfielder also was potent in front of goal, scoring 15 times. He poses a major threat from free-kicks and this could put Casemiro at a disadvantage as the Brazilian is known for his tactical fouling in the middle.
Still, it should not take away from Casemiro’s outstanding ability as a defensive midfielder. The former FC Porto man is arguably the best in the world at tackling and intercepting passes in midfield. His solid work at the base of midfield allows Toni Kroos and Luka Modric freedom to operate further up the pitch and combine with the attacking three.
Casemiro can blunt de Bruyne’s link-up play with Riyad Mahrez but stopping the in-form Belgian from dominating proceedings will be a much harder job altogether.
Raheem Sterling vs Eder Militao
With Ramos out, Zidane will be going with Eder Militao to partner Varane in central defense.
Militao has been a competent defender this season and has impressed in the limited game time he has gotten.
In this do-or-die fixture however, he could be the weak link at the back.
Defenses work better when there is familiarity. Militao has not played alongside Varane that often and Guardiola is likely to target this defensive partnership.
In Sterling, City have a supremely quick forward who can keep the Militao-Varane duo busy.
The English winger has been Manchester City’s highest goalscorer this season and in Aguero’s absence, the onus will be on him to be the main scoring outlet for the team.
Militao’s defensive positioning and reading is strong. How he deals with Sterling’s blinding speed will be a key factor in deciding this game.
Aymeric Laporte vs Karim Benzema
One of the primary reasons why Manchester City suffered defensively this season was Aymeric Laporte’s layoff.
Once he returned, their defensive organization also improved. Laporte is easily the best defender in Guardiola’s side.
He has all the tools you can ask of a center-back – his decision making is strong, he’s an able reader of the game and he’s also a competent tackler.
That all, however, can count for nothing if Karim Benzema is able to produce moments of magic that he has so often done this season.
The Frenchman has filled the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure for the last two seasons. With a consistent side around him, it’s no surprise that Benzema spearheaded Real Madrid’s title charge.
Whether it is getting in dangerous positions or taking defenders head on, Benzema can do it all. Laporte and his defending partners will have to keep a close watch on Benzema and Eden Hazard if they are to prevent a Real Madrid remontada.
The landscape of this tie and overall squad strength works in Manchester City’s favor.
Real Madrid’s overall form and winning mentality trumps that of the Cityzens.
Both teams are missing key players in areas where they dominate. Aguero up front for Manchester City and Ramos at the back for Los Blancos.
Knowing that its Guardiola at the helm, I do not see City playing conservatively. This also works in Real Madrid’s advantages as they can catch the hosts on the break.
City’s quality and depth up front, coupled with the incomparable de Bruyne will be the strongest test for Real Madrid’s superb defense.
I see both teams playing out a 1-1 draw in this game which will result in Manchester City progressing thanks to a superior aggregate score. Had Ramos been playing, Real Madrid would have been in better shape to keep a clean sheet. Overcoming two away goals would still have been an extremely tough proposition for Zidane’s men.
Predicted scoreline: Manchester City 1-1 Real Madrid