The bookies must have been rubbing their hands together last week when Manchester City and Real Madrid played out a dour goalless draw, with the world and his wife backing plenty of goals. Zinedine Zidane surprised everyone by fielding a team with the intent of shutting up shop, but if that was the plan then it worked to perfection as they limited City to nothing more than half-chances. Perhaps it was the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo or the 2-0 defeat away at Wolfsburg in the previous round that made the Real manager more defensive, but whatever the reasons, most pundits now agree that Madrid are in the driving seat.
That may not necessarily be the case from a City perspective and Manuel Pellgrini will surely have been pleased that his side avoided conceding an away goal, and they hardly threw the kitchen sink at Real, preferring to ensure their own clean sheet after the first 90. A home goal would have been the icing on the cake, but the Citizens showed that they can perform on their travels in Europe with the 2-2 draw at PSG in the quarter finals.
Madrid on the Front Foot
Nonetheless, Madrid are surely in pole position to qualify for the final in Milan later this month considering their excellent record at the Bernabeu. They’ve failed to score just once at home in Champions League games in the last seven years, and have only failed to win three times in the last 25 games in front of their own fans. They’ve taken care of sides such as Sevilla and Villarreal domestically and Roma and Wolfsburg in Europe, and only Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have secured victories here in the last six months.
It was a delightful Ronaldo hat-trick which saw Real win 3-0 in the last round to overturn the deficit against Wolfsburg, and they will be hoping that their talisman is ready to line up on Wednesday night. The official line is that a decision will be made on the day as the Portuguese star resumed training this week, but it would be a huge surprise if he doesn’t make it on to the pitch for such a momentous occasion.
Such is their brilliance at home that it’s nigh on impossible to imagine they won’t hit the back of the net, and a much more attacking game plan is expected. That could also leave the back door open for Manchester City though, and they can be expected to play on the break through the pace of Aguero, Navas and de Bruyne. With that in mind the -109 being offered by 888Sport and Unibet about both teams to score is worth taking.
City Must Score
Away goals are crucial in European competition and after last week’s stalemate, City know that they must score to stand a realistic chance of getting through to the final. Very few teams are able to shut out Real Madrid when in full flow, and any attempt to play for a 0-0 and extra time will surely be put to bed sooner or later. The City manager and players have pretty much acknowledged as much already and they will be plotting ways to expose Madrid’s often questionable defensive back line.
Sergio Aguero has been the go-to man for goals for several years for Manchester City, but Kevin de Bruyne has taken some of the weight off his shoulders in recent months, and has often looked like the stand out player in sky blue. The Belgian notched crucial goals in both legs of the quarter final against PSG and he will be charged with breaking at pace when Madrid attacks break down, and either supplying the ammo for Aguero or getting on the scoresheet himself.
The bookies are unconvinced that City will score at all, but pricing up Wilfried Bony and Kelechi Iheanacho (both of whom are likely to start on the bench) shorter than de Bruyne looks like an oversight. Pellegrini kept de Bruyne out of the match squad for the 4-2 defeat to Southampton altogether such is his importance in this game, and the +480 offered by 888Sport and Unibet about the Belgian scoring at any time is well worth a nibble.
That defeat at Southampton with a much-changed side was the worst possible preparation for City, and it leaves their position in the top four of the Premier League undecided. It’s a strange situation with Pep Guardiola due to take over in the summer, and Pellegrini has surely targeted this competition over and above domestic duties as he will be gone from the club by the time next season comes around anyway.
This is an all-or-nothing game for Manchester City, so the notion that they will be rolled over by Real Madrid is one that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Whatever the eventual result, they are more than capable of getting on the scoresheet themselves.
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