Manchester City have the scent of Champions League glory in their nostrils, but they have to overcome 13-time Champions Real Madrid if they are to come closer to achieving this feat.
The Citizens were imperious and unbeaten in their group, overcoming Atalanta, Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb to advance into the Round of 16.
The large break in football across the globe somewhat overshadowed their outstanding performance in February, coming away with a priceless 2-1 first-leg advantage against Real Madrid. While it was in this same period that Guardiola’s men lost in apathetic fashion to Manchester United and Spurs.
Is it Man City’s Time to lift the elusive trophy?
A two-year Champions League ban was lifted by the court of arbitration of sport and with City unable to claw back Liverpool’s tight grip on the league title prior to the Premier League halting, it became clear that the Citizen’s sole intention was to claim an elusive and first Champions League trophy.
Pep Guardiola has made five or six changes to his squad every game since the resumption of the Premier League and while this is more than any other top-flight manager, he certainly wasn’t doing this to guarantee second spot.
He was preparing his side for an assault on the biggest prize of them all; ensuring his squad are fresh mentally and physically for the challenges ahead. The decision to rest key personnel could be the difference in conquering what has eluded them previously, with De Bruyne and co hoping to cap David Silva’s departure with perhaps the greatest achievement of them all.
Madrid will not be lying down
Real Madrid travel to Manchester with a spring in their step, overcoming their Catalonian rivals in flawless fashion to claim a first league title since 2017, having won 10 of their last 11 matches since the return of competitive football.
Although Manchester City put their eggs firmly and immovably in the Champions League basket, Madrid have had to contend with proceedings in the league – confirming their 34th league title in the second to last game of the season with a victory over Villarreal.
Their league title triumph was a reward for their investment into a new era of galacticos, having flexed their new transfer model last summer which saw them bring in Rodrygo (19), Federico Valverde (22), Eder Militao (22), and Luka Jovic (22).
Madrid’s introduction of new talent impacted their ability to impose themselves on their Champions League group, starting their campaign with a 3-0 loss to PSG before drawing 2-2 against Club Brugge in a game where they found themselves 2-0 down.
Madrid’s dreadful beginning to their European campaign was nothing more than a wake-up call, as they went onto record victories in three out of their four final games to finish in 2nd place behind PSG.
The Spanish giants will be hoping to overturn a one-goal deficit at the Etihad stadium to remain in contention for a fourth Champions League crown in the Zidane era on Friday night.
City’s record against Spanish clubs in two-legged ties is W1 L4, with defeats in each of their last four. Two of those have come against Barcelona in the Champions League round of 16, in both 2013/14 (1-4 aggregate) and 2014/15 (1-3), so Madrid will need to be at their best to keep this record going.
Man City are without their hit-man striker Sergio Aguero heading into this contest after he underwent knee surgery in late June.
Claudio Bravo will miss the fixture with a muscle problem, while the suspension to Benjamin Mendy could see Joao Cancelo return at left-back.
Sergio Ramos is set to face the repercussions of his late red card in the return fixture so it remains to be seen whether he will lead his team out in the Champions League quarter-final. Brazilian left-back Marcelo missed the La Liga run-in with an adductor injury meaning he is a doubt for this match.
A highly-scoring contest is anticipated; City have scored 32 goals in their last 11 European matches, while Madrid have recorded a victory in their last seven matches in the Champions League round of 16, scoring 19 times.
The return of Aymeric Laporte has improved City defensively, but there are signs there to suggest that a counter-attacking plan is the undoing of the Citizens. Arsenal dispatched Man City in the FA Cup semi-final with 30% possession in a contest that was largely dominated by Guardiola’s men without really creating enough clear-cut opportunities.
Arsenal killed Man City’s build-up play whereby Xhaka shadowed the movement of De Bruyne, took advantage of the freedom that Guardiola gave Walker down the right side and soaked up City’s pressure to counter-attack.
With Real Madrid trailing in the tie, Guardiola could adopt a more cautious approach to protect his defence but this is dangerous given Madrid’s attacking prowess.
Madrid are a team brimming with confidence, having taken 30 points from a possible 30 to seal the La Liga title. This habit of winning consistently could be the difference in this contest as Man City are the tournament favourites in the eyes of most bookies.
Manchester City: Ederson; Walker, Fernandinho, Laporte, João Cancelo; De Bruyne, Rodri, Gündoğan; Mahrez, Jesus, Sterling
Real Madrid: Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Éder Militão, Mendy; Casemiro, Kroos; Modrić, Hazard, Vinícius Júnior; Benzema
The free-scoring nature of both of these sides suggests that a bet on both teams to score could be worth a punt, with some great value odds on show from some of the UK’s best football betting apps.
Both teams to score:
Bet365 – 8/15*
Betfred – 8/15*
BetVictor – 4/9*
Both teams to score & Real Madrid to win
BetVictor – 6/1*
William Hill, Ladbrokes, Betfred, Sky Bet – 11/2*
With 7 goals in his last 10 La Liga matches, Karim Benzema has certainly flourished as the main man in the post-Ronaldo era. The French forward has recaptured his form in European competition too – netting four in 7. He is worth a punt, especially against Manchester City’s leaky backline.
Benzema to score first
Unibet, 888Sport – 13/2*
Bet365 – 11/2*
For Man City, the value is with Gabriel Jesus to score first, having netted City’s first goal in each of their last two Champions League outings. Although Jesus has struggled to nail down a run of games in the league, he has earned Guardiola’s trust in the Champions League and in the absence of Aguero, a bet on him to score could be the way to go.
Jesus to score first
Unibet, 888Sport – 19/4*
Bet365 – 15/4*
*Odds shown were correct at time of checking (18:00, 03.07.20) and are subject to change at any time.
There is high value in the both teams to score and most bookmakers anticipate a high scoring contest, therefore, using the bet builder on bet365, you can get both teams to score, Karim Benzema to score and Kevin De Bruyne to score any time at 15/2.
A record of just two clean sheets from their last 11 knockout matches under Guardiola means betting on Real Madrid to score looks like a safe bet, while multi-scorer bets that include a choice of either Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Karim Benzema or Modric could have good value.
The tie promises goals, entertainment and a fascinating tactical tussle between two of Europe’s elite coaches. But for Man City, however, the game is now or never with time running out for this particular set of players to cap a highly successful era with some continental silverware.
Madrid’s steely defence marshalled by their talismanic leader Sergio Ramos has only conceded 25 goals in the league, though, and whether his absence from their backline is disastrous enough to sway the contest remains to be seen. Regardless, it would be naive of anyone to declare this robust group down and out given their form since football returned has been like a relentless steam train that doesn’t look like running out of steam just yet.
Author: Tom Griffin.