What: UEFA Champions League – Group D
Who: Manchester City vs Real Madrid
When: Wednesday 21st November, 2012, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England
Last Chance for Mancini and City
Manchester City take on Real Madrid here knowing that anything other than a win will confirm what many already suspect – that the English champions will make a group stage exit from Europe’s premier club competition for the second year in a row. Even victory and the three points would probably not be enough, given that their final match is away to German champions and group leaders Borussia Dortmund.
Roberto Mancini’s men have of course demonstrated in the past that they are capable of turning a seemingly impossible position into a winning one and it would be naïve to completely rule out their chances. The Citizens showed when these two teams met at the Bernabeu that they have the attacking talents to trouble Jose Mourinho’s side. A 5-0 win over Aston Villa on Saturday seemed to herald a return to their best form, although the step up in quality when they face the record winners of the European Cup will be dramatic.
Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko have all looked close to their best, providing Mancini with a wealth of options up front. The biggest question marks will be over Manchester City’s leaky defence, which has been porous in the Champions League, but the fight-back at home against Ajax preserved an unbeaten run of 19 home games in Europe, proving attack can often bale the backline out.
Progress on the biggest stage is crucial for Mancini’s long term job prospects. The threat always looms, as it did at Inter, that he will be replaced by someone with more pedigree in the Champions League. At Inter, he was removed for Mourinho. It is not inconceivable that he could both put Mancini on the road to an exit with a positive result here and then take his position next season.
Real Madrid Look to Seal Knockout Place
While defeat for their opponents would be terminal, a victory would almost certainly guarantee Real Madrid a place in the Champions League Round of 16 for the 15th season in a row. But this Real Madrid team have endured a troubling start to the season, even if they have won five consecutive games domestically since the Clasico draw with Barcelona. Los Blancos languish not only eight points behind arch rivals Barcelona, but five adrift of their city rivals, Atletico Madrid, over who superiority has been a given for so long.
The Champions League has not been a competition that Real Madrid have sailed through with their customary ease so far this season either, with Borussia Dortmund getting the better of them in the last two rounds of games. That has put them in the position where they could well end up needing a result from their last game to qualify, a reflection of the strength of this particular group.
Talk of a split in the camp has long been rife, with a reported division between the Spanish contingent and the Portuguese-Brazilian axis, led by Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo, and the future of both is in doubt. Ronaldo’s unhappiness at the club is well-known and has prompted much talk of a switch to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer; and on a personal level, Ronaldo will be relishing the chance to return to Manchester for the first time since leaving Manchester United. Mourinho’s latest clash has been with Alberto Toril, the coach of Real Madrid’s youth team Castilla, but here the controversial Portuguese will have reason to celebrate whatever the result – he will be in charge of his 100th Champions League game and become the fifth coach and the youngest ever to achieve that feat.
Manchester City 2-2 Ajax (06/11; Champions League)
Manchester City 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur (11/11; Premier League)
Manchester City 5-0 Aston Villa (17/11; Premier League)
Real Madrid 2-2 Borussia Dortmund (06/11; Champions League)
Levante 1-2 Real Madrid (11/11; La Liga)
Real Madrid 5-1 Athletic Bilbao (17/11; La Liga)
Manchester City: Gael Clichy (doubt); Mario Balotelli (doubt); Micah Richards; Jack Rodwell
Real Madrid: Marcelo; Michael Essien; Gonzalo Higuain
Players to watch
Manchester City – David Silva: It should not be considered a coincidence that Manchester City’s improvement against Tottenham and Aston Villa in the Premier League came about after the return to the side of Silva. Mancini’s team’s game is based on possession, but without Silva his team have struggled to keep the ball. The result has been increased pressure on their defence, which has buckled rather easily at times, particularly in Europe. If Silva is at his best then the Citizens can enjoy longer periods of possession and possibly hurt the Spanish champions in a way they have failed to do previously in this year’s competition.
Real Madrid – Mesut Ozil: The German international has been a key figure during Mourinho’s tenure at Real Madrid. The former Schalke playmaker is the key link between the forward line of Angel di Maria, Ronaldo and Karim Benzema or Gonzalo Higuain, and the deeper lying pair of Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira. His ability to find space, direct running, creativity and accurate passing could cause havoc in an area of the pitch – the central areas in front of the defence – where Manchester City have been weak this season.
The last time Real Madrid were in Manchester was to play Manchester United in a famous 4-3 defeat in the knockout stages of the competition a decade ago. Since then, Los Blancos have been to England three times, claiming a win, draw and defeat respectively against Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool. This game should be tight. Manchester City should line up with Silva supporting Aguero and Tevez or Dzeko up front, with a midfield three of Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry and Javi Garcia. There is plenty of fluidity about that collection of individuals, but the Citizens have lacked some steel this season. The midfield is not the impenetrable force which guarded their defence so resolutely in previous campaigns and can be got at.
That is where Real Madrid can win this game. Alonso’s fast, accurate passing over long distances is the perfect tool with which to make a rapid transition on the counter attack. When Manchester City lose the ball, they will know he can hurt them by finding Ronaldo, Benzema, Di Maria or Ozil quickly. Mancini’s side have not been able to cope with serious pressure being exerted on their goal for most of the season and it is hard to see how they will manage against the Real Madrid attack for 90 minutes. Manchester City 2-4 Real Madrid.
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