Real Madrid versus Manchester City. Mancini versus Mourinho. The Spanish champions versus the English champions.
This is the first time these clubs have met in a competitive fixture and without doubt the highlight match of Gameweek 1. Both sides have points to prove in Europe with Madrid unluckily losing to Bayern Munich on penalties in the semi finals last season where as Man City failed to progress from the Group Stage.
Both clubs had fantastic seasons last term. Any side that toppled Barcelona’s domestic dominance deserves the utmost respect and that’s exactly what Madrid did, even more the sweeter when they defeated Barcelona in their Catalan rivals’ back yard.
City on the other hand with their limitless financial pot, led the Premiership until Gameweek 28 when they suffered a 1-0 defeat to Swansea (then managed by Brendan Rodgers, one of Jose Mourinho’s former apprentices) and surrendered their lead to fierce rivals Manchester United. 1 win, 2 draws and 1 defeat in the next 4 games meant the Blue half of Manchester were trailing the Red half by 8 points with just 6 games to go.
A lot of sides would have given up but City didn’t and somehow managed to claw back those points, climaxing in what many would describe as the best finish to a Premiership season. Sergio Aguero’s last minute winner against QPR on the final day sealed the title victory as Roberto Mancini’s men won on goal difference.
This is Madrid’s 16th consecutive season in the Champions League and boast a much better pedigree than their English counterparts. Roberto Mancini has plenty of European experience but nothing compared to the newly dubbed “Unique One”. Mourinho has 2 Europeans cup under his belt where as Mancini’s best campaign took Inter to the last 16 back in 2008 where they were knocked out by Liverpool.
This season has seen both clubs have different starts. Madrid only have 4 points from 4 games whereas City have 8 points after 4 games as well. The weekend results did not go down too well for either side as Madrid lost to a tough battling Sevilla side 1-0 and City drew 1-1 with Stoke. Mourinho opted for what could be called his strongest XI where as Mancini “rested” several players and made early substitutions in preparation for Tuesday.
Other factors in this clash include the return of Kun Aguero, not only from injury which was confirmed on Thursday in Mancini’s press conference, but also to Madrid as a former Atletico player. Having been heavily linked to Los Blancos before moving to Manchester, Aguero will be looking to please his former employers on his return to the Spanish capital.
There is also the possibility of deadline day signing Javi Garcia returning to play the club he grew up at. The former Madridista marked his debut for his new club with a goal on the weekend.
City also have David Silva, Pablo Zabaleta and Yaya Toure, 3 players who have played many games in La Liga and against Madrid for Valencia, Espanyol and Barcelona respectively. Silva was one of the best players in the Premiership last season where as Toure is always there when his manager needs him. Roberto Mancini will certainly be looking to these players for experience.
On the other hand, I’m sure Mesut Ozil will be looking forward to potentially facing Gareth Barry again. The last time these two met was at the 2010 World Cup where Germany thrashed England 4-1. The Madrid number 10 did most of the damage that day, leaving Barry in his wake in the build up to the Germans 4th goal.
Both sides have an abundance of talent to choose from, in fact, I’d go as far as to say that these are the two strongest squads in top flight football. To pick/guess the starting XI’s is quite difficult. Madrid will be easier than City though.
Mourinho will be going for his usual 4-2-3-1, with either Coentrao or Marcelo at left back joining Arbeloa, Pepe and Ramos. Then there’s the choice of Modric or Ozil behind Benzema or Higuain. You would expect Xabi Alonso and Khedira to start as the two central midfielders but Di Maria was awful against Sevilla so I would expect him to be dropped, possibly in favour of Callejon or Modric, thus moving Ozil out to the right. Ronaldo is guaranteed to start, most likely on the left as usual.
In the Premiership, Mancini has favoured a flexible 4-4-2/4-2-3-1/4-2-4 formation depending on how you look at it. A solid back four of Zabaleta at right back, Kompany and Lescott in the middle and Clichy or Kolarov at left back, a midfield duo of recently Yaya Toure and Rodwell and then Silva, Nasri, and Tevez supporting either Dzeko or Balotelli up front. Barry has been back in training and might feature especially as Toure could play further up field, allowing another holding midfielder to come in making it a more solid 4-2-3-1. James Milner could also start due to his industrious work-rate and may be needed to provide defensive cover in stopping Ronaldo down the left flank.
Either way, on paper it should be a cracking game in a fantastic group. The general Champions League rule is “Win your home games and draw your away games” so I would expect City to be happy for a draw, especially against a strong Madrid side considered favourites to go all the way this year. Whether Mourinho and Co. would be happy with a draw is yet to be seen, but I would say City are their most difficult opponents even though there aren’t that many easy games.
Predicted starting XIs
Real Madrid – Casillas; Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos, Coentrao; Xabi Alonso, Khedira; Callejon, Modric, Ronaldo; Benzema
Manchester City – Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; Barry, Yaya Toure; Milner, Tevez, Silva; Aguero