Finally, after months of waiting, Manchester City resume their Champions League tie against Real Madrid. The COVID-19 hit Europe right in the middle of the Champions League round of 16, leaving behind a wild mess of ties to be played. So, since it’s been a while, let’s take a look at what happened when Manchester City visited Real Madrid.
Manchester City Face Real Madrid in Champions League Round of 16
Real Madrid vs Manchester City – First Leg
With fans in the stands and questions in our minds, Manchester City went to the Bernabeu and secured a massive 2-1 away win before the pandemic break. While the result is important and the away goals even more so, neither is the most important thing to remember about that game.
Pep Guardiola decided to play the waiting game against Real Madrid. The team sat much deeper than usual, and only had 52% possession. Wingers Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez spent more time defending in their own half than they did pressing in the opposing. Pep was clearly trying to mitigate the threats of Dani Carvajal and Marcelo overlapping.
And even after going a goal down, Manchester City had the ability to flip the switch. Raheem Sterling came on and was instantly instrumental. His entrance gave Gabriel Jesus the opportunity to move back inside, and they put Real Madrid’s defence under siege. The penalty Sterling earned in the 81st minute could have been the most vital moment of the match.
However, In the 86th minute, with the score already 2-1, Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos was sent off. The Spanish defender brought down Jesus right before he entered the box. To be fair it was a soft foul. But, like most Ramos red cards, there was an air of stupidity in the challenge itself. Now he will sit out what is arguably Madrid’s most important game this season.
Ramos is Real Madrid
Even at 34 years-old Ramos is still one of Real Madrid’s, and all of Spain’s, most valuable players. The centre-back finished the season as Madrid’s second-leading scorer, with more than double the goals of anyone not named Karim Benzema. Not to mention his team-leading 92% pass accuracy, on the best defence in his Real Madrid tenure.
They only allowed 25 goals in La Liga this season, better than any season since at least 1999, according to Fbref.com. But Ramos wasn’t the only reason for Real Madrid’s best defence in over two decades. Raphael Varane, Casemiro, Carvajal, Ferland Mendy and Thibault Courtois were incredibly valuable.
But Ramos was the lynchpin this season, and now that responsibility falls on 22-year-old Brazilian Eder Militao. The former Porto defender is young and talented and looks like he can do the job. He was the only Real Madrid player with a better tackling percentage versus dribblers than Ramos this season.
But it’s a far different task to defend against Manchester City. It’s fair to expect that City won’t be so willing to sit back and let a young defender grow into the game. At home, without Ramos, it’s likely City will come out blazing and press the light’s out of Madrid. It will be up to Militao and his teammates to whether that storm.
Manchester City’s Outlook
So if Real have a young defender out there, what will Manchester City’s outlook on this game be? For starters, expect a more traditional lineup. Gabriel Jesus upfront, Raheem Sterling on one wing, and either Riyad Mahrez or Phil Foden on the other. City fans would be drooling to see Foden start this game, and he has played well enough in the restart to earn such an honour.
But given the situation, Pep might be more apt to opt for Mahrez or even Bernardo Silva up top given their defensive awareness. It would be expected that the sentiment will follow into the midfield as well.
It’s obvious that most fans would like to see David Silva get a start in his last appearance at the Etihad. But more than likely Pep will go with the midfield three of Rodrigo, Kevin De Bruyne, and Ilkay Gundogan. It’s the midfield that offers the most control for City and gives them the option to play Madrid on the counter like they did in the first leg, or more recently against Liverpool.
The defence is where most of the outside interest will be placed. It’s widely expected that it will be Joao Cancelo starting at left-back in this game. Though not naturally left-footed, Cancelo has been far more consistent at the position than either Benjamin Mendy or Oleksandr Zinchenko since the restart.
However, left-back isn’t the only position that Pep Guardiola and Manchester City have to worry about. The club has spent plenty of time and money trying to figure out the best centre-back partner for Aymeric Laporte. And it’s likely that this game will go a long way to finding out if Eric Garcia is ready for that role.
To his credit, Garcia has been the best partner for Laporte since the season resumed. He has completely displaced Fernandinho, Nicolas Otamendi, and John Stones at centre-back. That’s lead to him start each of the last seven games for City. And while some results for City haven’t been great, his performances have been one of the highlights of the restart.
So we will find out if he’s ready for the bright lights. There will be moments in this game where he will be isolated against Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard. The pair had really formed some nice chemistry before Hazard suffered yet another muscle injury. Now back healthy, he and Benzema could really do some damage to Garcia’s budding reputation.
The Game Itself
The game will likely start with a Manchester City blitz. Pep will want to put the Real Madrid defence, and Militao specifically under pressure early. If they break, then the tie is won. But more than likely Madrid will weather the storm and City will have to withstand the chances that the La Liga Champions can create.
At the end of the day, Manchester City will allow Real Madrid to have a couple of chances, it’s just the nature of how they play. If Madrid can take them then things get interesting. But if City can limit the quality of those chances, they should have enough firepower on the other end to go through.