Manchester City’s dream of becoming part of the European football elite led to the hiring of Pep Guardiola and their first leg 2-1 win over Real Madrid in February showed their capacity to win club football’s most prized tournament, even though it is not yet job done.
Since that first leg, Real Madrid have stormed back to claim the La Liga title, while they have had time to rehabilitate Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio with Zinedine Zidane confident his team have the nous and the experience to overturn that first leg defeat.
Here are the five duels that will go a long way to determining Friday’s match:
Rodrigo v Casemiro
Are there better defensive midfielders in the world than Rodrigo and Casemiro? A big doubt and that is why this battle will be a key determinant of who triumph on Friday. We can class Rodrigo as more offensive while Casemiro is the probity check for Zidane’s team. Both players like to dominate the centre of the pitch, winning second balls to set their teams off on the attack. The battle will be physical and tiring as these two midfield giants clash on Friday.
Aymeric Laporte v Karim Benzema
The major reason Madrid were able to overhaul Barcelona and chase down the 2019/20 La Liga season was because of Benzema’s goals and creativity in the last third. The French striker has developed into Madrid’s go-to player and he will be primed for this battle, against a French defender, good enough for France but yet to be capped. One major reason City were blitzed by Liverpool in the EPL title race was the absence of Laporte’s commanding presence and passing ability out of the back. But Benzema is one of the best No.9s in the world at present which means Laporte will need a capable partner to keep the Madrid attacker in check.
Kevin De Bruyne v Federico Valverde
The effervescent and lethal De Bruyne will lead the City attack in his passing, deliveries into the box, and eye for goal, especially from a distance. This will be why Zidane will plump for the more energetic tackler in Valverde in this second leg. Valverde, as well as possessing a good engine, is also an excellent runner, able to break through the lines and score the occasional goal. This will be an interesting battle.
Raheem Sterling v Daniel Carvajal
Sterling has been superb this season for City as they chase the Holy Grail with 20 goals in the EPL and five in the Champions League, but he will not face a more dogged defender than Carvajal. The Spanish defender provided five assists as Madrid romped to the league title, which means Sterling will have to watch his back and help protect Oleksandr Zinchenko from the marauding right back.
Gabriel Jesus v Eder Militao
With Sergio Ramos ruled out because of the red card he got in the first leg and Sergio Aguero out with an injury, two Brazilians–Jesus and Militao will hog the spotlight. Jesus lacks Aguero’s proficiency in front of goal and Militao does not have the assuredness of Ramos. City’s Jesus scored 14 league goals in 34 appearances while Militao featured 15 times in La Liga. Both have something to prove as the season winds down and the transfer window is thrown open – this could be the last chance that they belong with their various teams.
Recent Form: Man. City [W-W-L-W-W]; Real Madrid [D-W-W-W-W]
Head to head
26/02/20 UCL Real Madrid 1 – 2 Man. City
27/07/17 ICC Man. City 4 – 1 Real Madrid
04/05/16 UCL Real Madrid 1 – 0 Man. City
26/04/16 UCL Man. City 0 – 0 Real Madrid
24/07/15 ICC Man. City 1 – 4 Real Madrid
“It’s difficult to know [Zidane’s] tactics. When you think you know, he will come up with something different. We’ve watched all Madrid games since La Liga restarted and spoken about how we think they will start. But what we’ve done more of is talk about what we can do.” – Pep Guardiola, Manchester City Manager
“We’ve prepared for this match. We know we’re behind, but it’s another final, and we’re going to try and play a great match. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but it’s going to be a good match between two very good teams.” – Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid Manager
Man. City [4-3-3]: Ederson; Walker, Fernandinho, Laporte, Zinchenko; Gundogan, Rodrigo, De Bruyne; Sterling, Mahrez, Jesus
Real Madrid [4-3-3]: Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Varane, Mendy; Casemiro, Valverde, Kroos; Hazard, Rodrygo, Benzema