Who: Manchester City vs Real Madrid
When: Friday, August 7th @ 3:00pm ET
Line: Man City -141 | Draw +340 | Real Madrid +345
Almost five months after it was initially supposed to take place, Manchester City will finally have their last dance against reigning La Liga champions Real Madrid. This game remains the most enticing of the remaining encounters even after the Citizens narrow 2-1 win in the first-leg, with circumstances & recent form of both sides making it an intriguing clash.
City ended their domestic season in somewhat disappointing fashion, losing in the FA Cup semi-finals & fluffing their lines on multiple occasions after the season restart. Madrid, however, are unbeaten in the post-pandemic era. Despite City’s meagre lead, this remains an even tie. Whoever manages to thrive under the (empty) Champions League atmosphere will book their tickets to Portugal for the quarter-finals & beyond.
Manchester City Predicted XI
Ederson, Walker, Fernandinho, Laporte, Cancelo, Rodri, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Mahrez, Sterling, Jesus.
The big blow for Pep Guardiola’s side will be the lack of Sergio Aguero, who is set to miss the game. But after how well Gabriel Jesus did in the first-leg, he’ll be trusted upon to get the job done.
Real Madrid Predicted XI
Courtois, Carvajal, Militao, Varane, Mendy, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Vinicius, Asensio, Benzema
Likewise, Madrid will also be without the services of their inspirational captain Sergio Ramos, who was sent off in the first-leg & remains suspended. Gareth Bale & Isco are suffering from some injury problems, but they’re unlikely to start even if deemed fit enough.
Manchester City vs Real Madrid Preview
Back in March, this game held a different meaning for Man City. With a European ban haunting them, this season’s Champions League was possibly their last opportunity to win a European crown in the immediate future. However, using the best legal team and thanks to CAS’ help, they turned the tides to overrule the ban.
Nonetheless, the uniqueness of this season’s Champions League still makes them favourites to go all the way. City are experts in single-legged knockout based tournaments, as proven in their dominance in the FA Cup or Carabao Cup in recent seasons. They’re tailor-made to suit these kinds of situations playing in a neutral venue without opposition fans bellowing down their flow.
But the problem is that they can’t just sit this one out & grind a draw. Not only does Guardiola’s tactics make ‘parking the bus’ impossible, but City just doesn’t have a strong enough defence to take that kind of a risk. They must go on the attack from the get-go & unleash their most potent attacking firepower.
This game will be an extremely interesting set of battles because it’s effective the best attack in Europe against the best defence. City scored 102 goals (!) in the Premier League last season while Madrid only conceded 25 (!) all season long en route to their La Liga success. Pep & Zinedine Zidane have conflicting philosophies, but Zizou triumphs him in terms of superior Champions League experience.
The Frenchman’s side seems to miraculously evolve into unstoppable monsters whenever the Champions League lights dawn upon them. They might lack a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, but Karim Benzema’s proven he can be just as good a match-winner over this season. Madrid’s highest scorer in La Liga (21 goals) has a point to prove that he can win them key games in Europe as well.
Benzema’s movement, link-up play and lethal work in the final third will definitely cause nightmares for City’s defenders. As will Vinicius’ directness & Marco Asensio’s unpredictability – which seems to have amplified after he returned from a nasty injury.
But the battle to watch in this game will be all about that in midfield. City loves a possession-based, penetrative passing style that just rips apart teams at will. Madrid are a more counter-attacking side that thrives on regaining the ball in midfield before launching forward in fast-breaks.
The trio of Casemiro–Kroos–Modric will be against the inspired Kevin De Bruyne–Gundogan–Rodri. It is guaranteed to be an explosive battle of wits. De Bruyne was the Premier League’s best player last season with 13 goals & 20 (!) assists. He will run the show again for City, but needs help from Gundogan & Rodri so that Madrid’s trio doesn’t phase him out.
Luka Modric might be ageing, but his creativity& ability to drive Madrid forward remains a threat. Toni Kroos is a passing wizard and his set-pieces will be key in creating chances against City’s wobbly backline. Casemiro, however, must protect his own backline from the onslaught that will come against the trickery of Riyad Mahrez, the explosiveness of Raheem Sterling & Gabriel Jesus’ goalscoring prowess.
The equations are simple for City. Get a goal or two before the hour-mark & see this one out. For Madrid, they must ensure they don’t concede early (or at all) and get an upper-hand before the second-half to have a fighting chance till the end. Without fans & their wobbly recent form against top teams, City have no added advantage & all is fair game. It remains to be seen whether they can break Zidane’s spectacular CL run or fall prey to another Real Madrid European masterclass.
Expect this game to be a bit of a cagey one. Neither side will want to risk allowing the other to score the first goal & gain an advantage. But I think both will manage to find the net & the game will end 1-1, allowing City to scrape through to the next round.