Rodri and Gundogan in midfield? - Predicted Team: Manchester City vs Real Madrid (Champions League)
The Champions League is back! Manchester City are to be belated hosts to the thirteen-time Champions League winners Real Madrid on Friday for their Round of 16 second leg. After a sensational away performance & 2-1 victory for Pep Guardiola’s men back in February, City are looking to book their place in next week’s quarter finals.
Both sides come in to this tie in exceptional form - City have won eight out of their ten league matches since the restart, while Zidane’s side went on an impressive streak of ten victories and a final day draw to seal their title win over rivals Barcelona. The second leg promises to be a tense, tactically astute affair, with both sides possessing the capability of hurting the other.
With that being said, here's our predicted team for this momentous tie...
Easy to start, Ederson is as sure as houses to start this coming Friday. At the back is where is gets a little tricky, as it has been all season. At right-back, Kyle Walker will surely start to combat the pace and trickery of either Eden Hazard or Vinicius Jr. Aymeric Laporte is an absolute certainty in central defence; his leadership and calmness on the ball will be essential in City’s overall game plan.
It's who accompanies him that's the main question. With the recent revelation of Eric Garcia not committing long-term to the club, Guardiola will presumably look for alternatives this coming game week. There is a sense Pep will not leave anything to chance and will start Fernandinho to provide more solidity and a slight bit more pace in defensive transition.
With Benjamin Mendy out of this tie through suspension, signs are pointing towards Joao Cancelo respiring his recent role at left-back. Guardiola has field tested the Portuguese full-back on the left flank - to which he's performed admirably well. His technical ability and aggressive attacking intent may cause problems with overloads on that left-hand side.
In holding midfield, we again have another potential dilemma. Sam Lee recently spoke on the Athletics’ podcast 'Why Always Us' about the midfield set up for Madrid, stating that Guardiola will go with a double pivot of Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan. We would tend to agree; given that in the first-leg, Guardiola went with Rodri and Gundogan in a midfield pairing. Containing the counter attack with a double pivot has worked to a better extent than asking Rodri to perform as the sole pivot.
Ahead of them will be none other than the greatest midfielder on the planet, Kevin De Bruyne. Setting up in the number 10 spot, City fans will be praying the Belgian can recapture that masterclass we witnessed back in February at the Bernabeu.
The front three would invariably pick itself but during Pep’s tenure at the club, we have witnessed some bizarre selections in the knockout stages of the Champions League – most notably deploying Gundogan as an inverted right winger against Liverpool in 2018. There are question marks who may start on the right side this time also, given the depth. Foden could be used in a similar role to his performances against Aston Villa & Arsenal, or Bernardo reclaiming his spot to provide energy in the press and floating into central areas when on the ball. However, given his exploits in the first leg, Riyad Mahrez should claim the right-wing spot for Friday.
On the opposing flank, there is no other choice but Raheem Sterling. His pace and trickery should be focused on running Madrid’s right-back ragged. Like he did in the first-leg to win the penalty, his initial burst to the by line will be critical in exploiting any space in behind the Madrid defence and drawing in last ditch challenges.
Up front, with a slight hope of Agüero starting after his injury against Burnley, it appears the Argentine will miss this fixture - meaning Gabriel Jesus will lead the line. He may move out wide like we saw in the first-leg and allow Sterling’s mazy runs in behind to push the Madrid back line further back.
That'd leave a bench of Banuzu, Zinchenko, Stones, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Silva, Bernardo, Foden and Doyle.
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