Manchester City vs Real Madrid - Five key things to consider ahead of the last-16 clash
MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 26: Kevin de Bruyne of Manchester City prepares to take a corner during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester City at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on February 26, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Matt McNulty - Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images)

Manchester City will be looking to book their flight to Lisbon on Friday when they host Real Madrid in the second leg of their last sixteen Champions League clash.

It's been 162 days since the sides met at the Santiago Bernabeu - where the Citizens came from behind to secure a 2-1 victory courtesy of goals from Gabriel Jesus and Kevin de Bruyne - but a lot has changed since then.

Form Guide

Real Madrid's form post-lockdown has been stupendous. They are yet to taste defeat since returning to action, winning 12 of their 13 games since the restart as they claimed a first La Liga title in three seasons.

City have had much less to play for, Liverpool's coronation was a mere formality, although they did fall to a disappointing FA Cup semi-final defeat to Arsenal three weeks ago. But now it's time for business, the Champions League has been City's number one priority since the turn of the year.

Away goals to strike thrice?

They may be ahead going into the game, but Manchester City won't be resting on their laurels, especially given what's happened in recent times.

Away goals have been the undoing of Manchester City in two of their last three campaigns. Late VAR heartbreak denied City a famous win over Tottenham last season, as they exited the campaign on away goals after a 4-4 aggregate draw.

It was a similar situation back in 2017. A Champions League classic at the Etihad saw City defeat Monaco 5-3 but, despite taking a two-goal lead to the high-flying Ligue 1 side, City lost 3-1 on the night to exit the competition on away goals.

They needn't worry about away goals after Friday - with the rest of the competition to be played over a single leg - but City still have this final hurdle to overcome before they can start thinking about that.

Real would have to come to the Etihad and score at least three times for that to happen, but there is no secret that Man City have issues defensively and with Real in red-hot form, stranger things have happened.

Ramos-less Real to struggle at the back?

One big bonus for City is that Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos will play no part on Friday night.

The 34-year-old misses out with suspension having been sent off late in the first leg when he pulled back Gabriel Jesus when the Brazilian looked to be through on goal.

The centre back has popped up with some huge goals for Real over the years - including a goal in the 4-1 win over Atletico in the 2014 final - his omission is a huge boost for Guardiola's men.

Who partners Laporte?

The defensive issues of Manchester City have been clear to see through the course of their disappointing title defence.

The injury to talisman Aymeric Laporte didn't help - especially after the Blues failed to invest in a Vincent Kompany replacement in the summer - but with the Frenchman now back fit, who partners him tomorrow?

Nicolas Otamendi started the first leg in Madrid and played well for the most part, but his rash defending leaves much to be desired, with the Argentine seeing very few minutes down the Premier League stretch. Would Guardiola risk bringing him back in in a game of this magnitude?

Eric Garcia has been somewhat of a mainstay in the Manchester City starting lineup in recent weeks, but with news breaking today that he doesn't want to stay at the club, will his head be in the right place for what would be the biggest game of his short Manchester City career?

Fernandinho took Laporte's role through injury and, despite being a centre defensive midfielder by trade, the Brazilian did OK. He looked defensively sound when he came on to replace Laporte after he picked up a knock in the first leg. Experience is also on his side.

Or could we see John Stones be thrown a Manchester City lifeline? His days at the club look numbered after yet another torrid season with injuries. Unlikely he starts, but with Guardiola, who knows!

False nine to return?

This is an interesting one.

Guardiola opted for a false nine in the Spanish capital - with Jesus, De Bruyne and Jesus all occupying that role at different points across the 90 in order to keep the Madrid defence guessing - but will he opt for that again in Manchester?

There will be no Sergio Aguero for the blues, as the Argentine continues his recovery from an injury picked up in their first game post-COVID against Arsenal, so that limits their options up top.

Jesus has been occupying the centre forward role in Aguero's absence and he hasn't done badly - scoring four in his last six - but with the advantage on the scoreboard heading into the clash, will City opt for the false nine that will allow them to dominate the ball even more than usual?

No flights booked yet!

They have the advantage of being ahead on aggregate. They also have 'home advantage' albeit it without fans. They are the overwhelming favourites to go through, but Manchester City fans know all to well not to take anything for granted, especially against a team with the calibre of Real Madrid.

 

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