Manchester City finally resume their second leg tie against Real Madrid tomorrow night but everything seems different than it was back in February when we claimed a welcome win in Madrid.
For many Manchester City fans of a certain age, despite a 2:1 first leg win, there is a belief that City go into this home game as the underdogs.
Real Madrid were struggling back in February, but now post their League title win are buoyant and looking to secure passage against a City side who have largely flattered to deceive.
City have shined brightly against some teams but have been outdone tactically by others willing to sacrifice guile and skill for endeavour. Resolute defending and catching us on the break, reduces our array of talents into endless pointless crossing into the penalty area.
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With this achilles heel so blindingly obvious it is easy to speculate upon how Real Madrid may set up for this game. Should they go hell for leather to get the goal to level the tie or should they sit back and wait for City to implode of their own volition?
10 wins in 10 games since the restart indicates Madrid are a very different proposition to the side we sucker punched some 6 months ago.
Pep Guardiola has had 6 months in which to ruminate upon his team selection and tactics, giving him extra time to potentially second guess his intuition. Will that be our undoing as we often seen to suffer in those moments where Guardiola is out of ideas.
With only Sergio Aguero on the treatment table and Benjamin Mendy serving a one match ban, most of the first team squad are fit and available. The dilemma for Pep is about who to leave out.
City will most likely start with their strongest 11 players, with false number 9’s and inverted fullbacks left to later stages in the game. I expect Ederson to have Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo as full backs, with Aymeric Laporte and perhaps John Stones in centre back roles. If not Stones then a worrisome run out for the slower Fernandinho.
Rodri will be joined in midfield by Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan. Foden and Silva will have to be content to make an impact from the bench.
The all important front 3 will largely pick itself. Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus will be guaranteed, although may interchange between left wing and central roles.
I think Guardiola will prefer Bernardo Silva to Riyad Mahrez on the right wing, believing in the tracking back and work rate of Bernardo above the skill.of Mahrez.
City’s season comes down to this single crunch game. Progress and there are the trials and tribulations of a knockout tournament in Lisbon, a loss and our season is over.
Pep Guardiola will be honing his troops to ensure City get through this tie but things are tightly poised. As City fans we expect UEFA and VAR to conspire to ensure we are out, but we can still dream of Lisbon. And hope this is our chance.