Respective 5-1 and 5-0 victories for Real Madrid and Manchester City on Saturday sees both sides heading into game week 5 with plenty of confidence. Neither side had to break a sweat over the weekend and had to opportunity to make early substitutions, keeping key players as fresh as possible for the clash at the Etihad stadium on Wednesday.
The upcoming clash is important for both teams as Dortmund currently lead Group D and are playing the “weakest” opposition in Ajax. City have to win, any other result is not good enough and will mean an exit completely from Europe or a potential demotion to the Europa League, much like last year. Madrid on the other hand still have top spot in their sights and can qualify with a victory should Ajax lose but the Champions League can sometimes be a strange competition where a 2nd place finish could mean a better route in the knockout stages. Jose Mourinho has already stated that if Los Blancos were to finish 2nd then its not a problem as the previous times he has won the Champions League with Porto and Inter, they both finished 2nd in their respective groups.
Madrid have had some fascinating games on English soil. Previous trips include the famous victories over the red half of Manchester, remembered for this piece of magic from Fernando Redondo and the phenomenal hat trick scored by Ronaldo back in 2003. There was also the victory over Tottenham Hotspur back in 2011 at White Hart Lane but there was also the 4-0 defeat at the hands of a Xabi Alonso and Alvaro Arbeloa inspired Liverpool back in 2009.
Manchester City have been appalling in Europe this season and it is a mystery as to why a team with so much talent is failing to showcase their domestic dominance on the bigger European stage. Their best game in Europe this season came at the Bernabeu in the reverse fixture where late goals from Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo gave the Whites all 3 points.
Still unbeaten in the Premier League this season and unbeaten at home in 19 European games, a fit David Silva is a huge bonus to the team meaning City should still put up a massive challenge for Madrid. Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Silva were instrumental over the weekend and Roberto Mancini will hope for more of the same. Joe Hart bounced back from a below par performance for England against Sweden last week with a clean sheet whilst Pablo Zabaleta was rested for summer signing Maicon. Gael Clichy is reported to have picked up an injury and could be replaced by Alexander Kolarov at left back. Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry should continue as the midfield 2 and Samir Nasri along with Silva should support Aguero and either Tevez or Edin Dzeko up front. With Tevez playing all 90 minutes on the weekend, it would suggest that Aguero is guaranteed a starting place with the other striking option still undecided. Mario Balotelli hasn’t been included in the last two matchday squads but could be in line for a return, most likely on the bench. As City have to win this game, I can’t see them playing anything other than their standard 4-2-3-1 (4-4-2) against Madrid. It served them well on the weekend and they can’t risk any mistakes playing their 3-5-2 experimental formation. Whether Mancini drops a striker to allow another midfielder to play and push Toure further forward is yet to be seen but you would think that chasing a victory would mean playing two strikers.
Madrid have no injury worries apart from long-term victim Marcelo and Gonzalo Higuain. Fabio Coentrao and Arbeloa have played the past couple of games, allowing Sergio Ramos to move back into central defence. I personally love Ramos at right back but there is no debate that he is a class act in the middle with Pepe. Alonso and Modric started together on Saturday but with Sami Khedira making a 2nd half appearance, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the German international play alongside Alonso, providing a bit more steel in the middle. CR7 is a sure starter and with Higuain injured, Benzema will lead line having had an absolute stormer at the weekend. His 2nd goal (I’m giving him the 1st) was an absolute peach. With Mesut Ozil also getting on the score sheet you would expect him to continue behind Benzema, leaving Di Maria and Jose Callejon fighting it out for the right wing position.
The game is poised to be an open attacking game with City needing the victory. The counter attacking style of Madrid could punish the Manchester side but with each side as talented as they are, anything could happen. Silva, Aguero and Toure have played Madrid several times before during their time in La Liga and Mancini will look to these players to step up to the mantle.
Predicted score - 2-2
Manchester City (4-2-3-1/4-4-2) – Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Kolarov; Yaya Toure, Barry; Silva, Tevez, Nasri; Aguero
Real Madrid (4-2-3-1) – Casillas, Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos, Coentrao; Alonso, Khedira; Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo; Benzema
-Dave Reay (twitter: @reaydave)