Manchester City take on Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final this midweek, with the English side looking to win the tournament for the first time and the Spanish giants aiming to get their hands on their eleventh European Cup (7.45pm Tuesday, BT Sport Europe).
City tightened their grip on a top-four spot in the Premier League with a 4-0 win over Stoke City at the weekend, a result that takes them one step closer to wrapping up qualification for next season’s Champions League, thus allowing them to turn their attention to this year’s edition in the meantime. Victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the last eight felt like a coming-of-age moment for a club who are still getting used to being part of the European elite, and now Man City have a chance to secure what would be one of the biggest victories in their history against Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid.
Unlike City, Los Blancos’ domestic challenge for silverware is still alive, with league leaders Barcelona just one point ahead of Madrid with three games remaining in Spain. The club’s supporters would probably accept a second or third-place finish in La Liga if it meant winning the Champions League, though, with success in Europe likely to guarantee Zidane the job at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2016/17. Madrid have the experience of competing at this stage of the competition many times before, which could give them an edge against relative novices City.
Manuel Pellegrini may be unable to call upon the services of Samir Nasri (muscular), Fernando (knee) and Yaya Toure (muscular) on Tuesday night, although the Chilean is hoping all three will recover from their various injury issues in time to play a part.
David Silva returned to action in the thrashing of Stoke and is available for selection once more, with Vincent Kompany, Bacary Sagna, Aleksandar Kolarov, Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho all in line to return to the City starting XI after being rested at the weekend. Raheem Sterling is also pushing for a place in Pellegrini’s line-up, with Jesus Navas the other option out wide, while Kelechi Iheanacho will almost certainly drop to the bench despite his brace and man-of-the-match performance against Stoke.
Madrid, meanwhile, are sweating on the fitness of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, with the former missing Saturday’s 3-2 win at Rayo Vallecano and the latter coming off in the first half. Sergio Ramos, Casemiro and Luka Modric will all be restored to the XI after being left out or suspended at the weekend, but Dani Carvajal looks set to miss out after picking up an injury in the 5-1 victory over Getafe 10 days ago. Isco and James Rodriguez could both come into the frontline if Benzema and Ronaldo are not passed fit, although Lucas Vazquez’s impressive display against Rayo means the 24-year-old may have jumped to the top of the waiting list, with fellow academy product Jese – who started on Saturday – another option.
It is difficult to predict the outcome of this first leg until the teams have been released, particularly as the status of Ronaldo and Benzema will play a big part in deciding the result. Madrid may have closed the gap with Barcelona in La Liga in recent weeks, but they were a touch fortunate to progress ahead of Roma and Wolfsburg in their previous Champions League knockout ties and are not the formidable proposition they were when they last won this tournament in 2014. City therefore have enough about them to secure a narrow victory ahead of next week’s showdown at the Santiago Bernabeu, with a 2-1 victory for the Premier League outfit – and Sergio Aguero (pictured) as the first goalscorer – the predicted result.