|Pellegrini - Getty Images|
Cristiano Ronaldo returned to full training, Sergio Aguero is slightly off his goal scoring form and David Silva is unavailable due to injury - with Yaya Toure recalled to the travelling squad for the return clash with Real Madrid. All factors suggesting that Manchester City arrive with little hope and the odds stacked against them at the Santiago Bernabeu. But as this is the semi-final of the Champions League anything is possible and Manuel Pellegrini’s team could hardly misfire as much as they did at the Etihad last week in the first leg. Although a defeat to Southampton away on Sunday hardly offered the right medicine.
In contrast Real Madrid squeezed a win at the weekend in San Sebastian and continue to show no goals conceded at home in the Champions League. They also have reinvigorated their flagging since season since Zinédine Zidane took over in January and with Ronaldo back the sense of propose and momentum always increases. As will the expectation on Wednesday night. Which could be the only thing that they could suffocate the life out of the players should City apply the high pressing game early doors - and score early. Especially with Casemiro and Karim Benzema both unavailable as the Frenchman's 23 goals this season show he will be a loss on the night. But Toni Kroos has been confirmed fit after sitting out the weekend win at Real Sociedad which is a boost.
This semi-final will be the fifth match for Real Madrid in the last five years against an English team and thus far they have recorded three wins and a draw in the home ties. The first of these was in April 2011 when Tottenham were the visitors and lost 4-0. Both Gareth Bale and Luka Modric still playing for the visitors on that occasion. In September 2012 Manchester City arrived in the group stages. A year later Ronaldo scored against his former club in March 2013 in a 1-1 draw against Manchester United in the round of 16 matches. Then in 2015 Madrid came up against Liverpool in the group stages and Benzema got the only goal to shorten the European adventure for the then manager, Brendan Rodgers.
On Wednesday Zidane will field the usual defensive line up of Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Dani Carvajal all protecting keeper Kaylor Navas The midfield will vary with the injuries and Jese likely to slot in the place of Benzema ahead of Lucas Vazquez. The replacement for Casemiro is a tougher choice as the Brazilian is a ZiZou favourite as his defensive strengths compensate for the attacking work of Bale, Kroos and Modric. Also helps protect the Madrid back four that are always suspect when fast runners attack them like Kevin DeBruyne. The likely option being Isco ahead of Kovacic. Although this is a script written for the Croatian star.
The front line will be spearheaded by Ronaldo with the support of Bale as a roaming attacker it would seem.
The City side probably also picks itself with Brazilian midfield duo Fernando and Fernandinho likely selections, along with Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne The real decisions involve Iheanacho or Bony in a line up alongside Aguero. Or a midfield five to include Raheem Sterling out wide or Yaya Toure at number ten. In their last trip to Spain a 3-1 victory away at Sevilla in the group stages was no mean an achievement so they won’t fear the Madrid visit. Also Madrid’s failure to score in the first leg opens up an opportunity to progress with a vital away goal the clear option.
Coach Pellegrini comes armed too with some bad memories of his sacking by Florentino Perez in 2010 for having failed to win La Liga at first time of asking. The run this season for Manchester City - in a tournament that has stopped them for years at the group stage - is very ominous to any Madrid supporter as it suggests other forces may be at work. As is all the background noise that Pellegrini supposedly has no chance compounded by the irony that his replacement next season at City next season lost to Atletico in the other semi-final in Munich on Tuesday night. Pep Guardiola unable either to meet the expectations of his employers during his three-year term in Germany. All suggesting that fate may play a role in Madrid on Wednesday night and Pellegrini may yet enjoy a fairy-tale finish.
Destiny has a habit of unravelling unsuspecting narratives in this great tournament despite all the pre-match rationale that hints otherwise. In the Champions League latter stages outcomes are not always logical as Chelsea proved in 2012 under Roberto DiMatteo - seeing off the might of Bayern Munich in the final at the Allianz Arena. Consequently, Zidane knows he will come of age if Madrid reach Milan after tonight’s final whistle. A final that in Hampden Park in 2002 he graced with a volley that will always top those lists of best ever goals.
A win against City would also fast track his chance of joining players who have won the Champions League as players and managers. A list of names like Guardiola, Beckenbauer, Cruyff and Ancelotti – where he would fit in perfectly. If not, he could face the Pellegrini treatment and find himself out of favour with President Perez quite promptly. So clearly there will be no lack of focus for Zidane come kick off at the Bernabeu. Or indeed Pellegrini who has sacrificed the Premier League ambitions in recent months for Champions League success.
Zinédine Zidane, Real Madrid coach
Cristiano is fine, 100%. There's no risk – he's training. He's improved over the last week. He is a player who looks after himself and recovers quickly.
It will be a disaster if we don't go through. This will be a tougher game than the first leg because we know it will all be decided. They have good players, especially up front, but we'll play our football as always. We won't have the same game as the second leg against Wolfsburg. We can't think we'll score two or three inside 15 minutes. It's a different game and we know we'll suffer from the first minute to the 90th. We need to be patient and calm.
We need to think about playing football, pressing high up and being intense. We also know we are playing a very difficult opponent who will make things difficult. There's no special plan for Agüero, who is a fundamental player for them.
Manuel Pellegrini, Manchester City manager
Our aim must be to get to a final that we have never before reached. We have a lot of faith in our ability and expect to prove it. It's always good to be back at the Santiago Bernabéu – I have very good memories of being here. The pressure at this stadium is always great but we have the personality and team to win it.
We have the opportunity to make club history but we will have to play well. We tried to press and steal the ball in Manchester but it was not a good day. Tomorrow we will try to have possession and attack from the first minute. Great matches are decided by the best, but we have to play as a team defensively and offensively against Real Madrid; not just Cristiano.
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