Written by Damian Kayat for Hollywoodbets.
Manchester City v Real Madrid | Tuesday 26 April | Etihad Stadium | 20:45
The night that City’s owners and expanding fan base have clamoured for so fervently has arrived. A Uefa Champions League semi-final will grace the Etihad this week; it almost seems sacrilegious that there’s a major European semi-final in Manchester and Old Trafford will be empty.
Manuel Pellegrini is hoping to fulfil the long-time mandate of the club’s billionaire owners whilst simultaneously bowing from his post in considerable style. Zidane’s Madrid are a cryptic bunch. Their defensive frailties can appear positively sophomoric while they remain a massively dangerous attacking unit.
This should be a fascinating clash of the established European elite and the brash bravado of City’s ‘new money’.
To Win (90 Mins)
Manchester City 18/10 | Draw 24/10 | Real Madrid 14/10
City recorded a resounding 4-0 victory over Stoke that allowed them to rest a plethora of their most integral players. Silva, Kompany, and Sterling will all likely return to the starting line-up this week.
Raheem Sterling has enigmatically performed more consistently in European competition than on the domestic front. Perhaps their insistence on playing counterattacking football in Europe suits the young Englishman’s skillset.
Silva will operate in his characteristically laconic manner in the number ten role while Kevin De Bruyne aims to continue his ascension into the upper pantheon of European talent. The Belgian’s all-round contribution to the team’s recent success will stand the 'Citizens' in good stead against a defensively vulnerable Real side.
Yaya Toure picked up a slight knock against Stoke and will face a late fitness test going into this game. My hunch is that the Ivorian bulldozer may start on the bench regardless of his fitness. Fernando and Fernandinho will provide a more cohesive screen for the City back four against the likes of Bale and Ronaldo.
Toure often gets marooned in no man's land during phases of fast transition; the Ivorian’s penchant for devastating forward incursions clearly leaves City vulnerable against a side of Real’s talent.
Sergio Aguero will feel confident that he can disrupt Ramos and Pepe on Tuesday evening. Both defenders are the rambunctious sort and could easily be vulnerable to the odd agricultural tackle. Look for a possible City penalty won by Aguero. Pellegrini may also opt for the more defensively minded Sagna on the right due to Marcelo’s considerable attacking threat.
Cristiano Ronaldo was rested as a precaution in their valiant comeback win over Rayo Vallecano. The Portuguese uber-star will no doubt return for this crucial encounter with the allure of away goals so critical at this stage of the tournament. Whether he will be fully fit will be another story.
Additionally, Karim Benzema looks to be a doubt due to injury while Carvajal also misses out. Danilo will fill in for Carvajal while Jese may feature in a reconfigured front formation.
Ramos and Pepe may prove a potential weak point for Madrid against an athletic and highly motivated City attacking unit.
It is important to note that Real Madrid have occasionally looked rather indifferent on the road. They needed a Bale inspired comeback to edge relegation-threatened Rayo Vallecano while they looked absolutely toothless in their first leg defeat against Wolfsburg.
Modric and Kroos are going to battle to find space against Fernandinho and Fernando while De Bruyne and Sterling will keep Marcelo and Danilo honest at the back.
Real have not lost in eight against English opposition in this competition (W:6 D:2) and know that they can overturn any deficit going back to the Bernabeu. I just have the feeling that Ronaldo’s questionable fitness and their recent troubles on the road may give City a slight edge.
Verdict: Total Goals over 2.5 at 7/10
While I favour a 2-1 or 3-2 victory for City, I still find it hard to fully back them against this hardened European juggernaut. Both sides have defensive frailties and an abundance of attacking talent; this has goal-fest written all over it.
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