Manchester City welcome Real Madrid to the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday in a bid to take another step towards the club’s first ever appearance in a Champions League final.
There is no doubt Sergio Aguero is the key man for Manchester City. The Argentina international is second in the Premier League’s top scorers list behind Harry Kane despite missing two months of the season through injury, and has scored five times in his last three matches for City, including a hat-trick against Chelsea.
Kevin de Bruyne, meanwhile, is another player to keep an eye on as the Citizens’ performances have improved noticeably since the Belgian playmaker has returned from injury, and Real Madrid would remove a significant threat if they are able to keep him quiet.
With both Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo potentially unavailable for Los Blancos, much will fall on the performance of the club’s record signing, Gareth Bale.
The Wales international was given the job of leading the line for Real against Rayo Vallecano at the weekend, and responded to the added pressure magnificently, scoring twice to both start and complete their comeback from two goals down to win 3-2. The Spanish giants will be looking for a similarly impactful performance from Bale on Wednesday night.
Manchester City’s late resurgence in form might be too little for them to challenge for the Premier League title, but it could be perfectly timed for an unexpected run at the Champions League trophy.
They are unbeaten in their last seven matches, winning four of their last five, including a 3-0 win over Chelsea and a 4-0 victory over Stoke City at the weekend.
“Everyone wants to continue, to play the final,” City manager Manuel Pellegrini said ahead of the match.
“It’s important to reach this final as it reflects the work we are doing for three years. The way you win a title is very important. We won’t just try to defend to reach the final. I have always tried to have a team who play good football, play well.”
However, they meet a side that has won all five of their last fixtures in all competitions and have only lost once in their last 12, with all 11 of the other results being victories.
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane was thrilled after his side’s come-from-behind win over Rayo on Sunday as he believe it showed his squad had the mentality to match their skill, which will serve them well in the Champions League.
“We proved that after conceding goals we could get back into the game,” he said. “We made up the difference because we were patient and we knew that we had quality players who could make the difference. Sometimes, you have to be patient when things aren’t going well.”
Yaya Toure (muscle) will miss the visit of Real Madrid through injury, but Pellegrini used his pre-match press conference to throw his support behind Brazilian duo Fernando and Fernandinho, who will be filling the void in midfield.
“Whenever the Brazilian boys have played together they’ve played some big games – against PSG and against Roma when we knocked them out,” Pellegrini enthused.
Skipper Vincent Kompany has returned to contention ahead of the crunch clash, but it remains to be seen whether Pellgerini will risk handing the centre-back a starting berth.
Zidane, rather surprisingly, revealed both Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema would be part of the full-strength squad travelling to Manchester on Tuesday despite serious doubts about the fitness of both players. Full-back Daniel Carvajal is available for selection after recovering from a knee injury.