Football

City can stun Real, Nastasic tells Richard Buxton

Former City defender Nastasic tells TNP Pellegrini's men can stun Real at the Bernabeu

SEMI-FINAL, 2ND LEG

REAL MADRID v MAN CITY

(Tomorrow, 2.45am, Singtel TV Ch 112 & StarHub TV Ch 212)

  • Teams tied at 0-0 after first leg

No one can argue that Manchester City's quest to win the Champions League has been easy.

The club that previously made light work of financially muscling their way to the top table of European football continue to encounter formidable obstacles in their quest to reach next month's showpiece at Milan's San Siro Stadium.

Juventus, Sevilla, Dynamo Kiev and Paris Saint-Germain have thrown up potential roadblocks; trying and ultimately failing to derail City's pursuit of European glory.

Real Madrid are the latest team attempting to gatecrash Manuel Pellegrini's farewell party.

On his return to the Santiago Bernabeu tomorrow morning (Singapore time), the festivities threaten to be cut short prematurely.

The Chilean's former stomping ground is likely to carry little fondness, following his unceremonious sacking in 2010. And that sentiment is likely to be magnified by the fact that this last-four encounter is balanced on a knife-edge at 0-0.

But perceived lesser opponents have overcome the 10-time European champions, at the Bernabeu no less, in recent times and lived to tell the tale.

A former City player already counts himself among that group. Matija Nastasic was part of the Schalke side who, despite exiting on aggregate, emerged victorious from a seven-goal thriller with Real in their own backyard during last February's Champions League Round-of-16 clash.

EASY GAME

"Everyone expected us to concede five or six goals and thought it would be an easy game for Real," the 23-year-old Serbia defender told The New Paper in an exclusive interview.

"But we said inside (the dressing room) that we must fight until the end and try to give our best and, at the end, we will see if it's enough to go through or not.

"We played a very good game but we were unlucky that we conceded one goal (more) or didn't score one more goal to go through.

"I think for City, the 0-0 first-leg result is a very good one against Real.

"They have a big chance in the second leg."

Even with no away goals to counteract, City cannot afford to wait and see; they allowed that window of opportunity to pass them by during last week's underwhelming semi-final first-leg stalemate.

Devoid of Cristiano Ronaldo, Real were toothless at the Etihad Stadium.

Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, two thirds of their "BBC" partnership, appeared aimless and bereft of ideas when unaided by the former Manchester United talisman.

City fared little better, with Sergio Aguero similarly deprived of service while Kevin de Bruyne, their wing wizard, lacked the magic touch.

Raheem Sterling was guilty of lacking a basic first touch that may come at a cost to his side.

Ronaldo's return to fitness is set to intensify what will already be a frenzied approach by the hosts in a bid to remain in the competition which continues to define them.

Joe Hart and company will certainly have their work cut out in defence as Pellegrini looks to rely on City's well-rested charges to vindicate him at the Bernabeu, following the mauling of a much-changed line-up by Southampton on Monday morning.

Chants of "Are you watching, Real Madrid?" ironically rang out from the travelling supporters that endured the 4-2 reversal at St Mary's.

Zinedine Zidane could be forgiven for relishing this clash.

But while Pellegrini's continued prioritising of the Champions League has been central to City's downfall in the English Premier League, it has, to date, remained a gamble that continues to pay dividends.

"I think that now, this season, the players have shown everything he wants from them in the Champions League," admitted Nastasic, who won the Premier League under the outgoing City manager in 2013/14.

"In the Premier League, it was a little bit of a struggle this season because of the Champions League.

"It's really hard to concentrate on every cup and league game because in England, you have a lot of games.

"It's practically impossible to concentrate on the FA Cup, League Cup, Premier League and Champions League.

"Something must give and, this year, they decided to go for the Champions League."

City have come this far.

Overpower Real and they will stand potentially 90 minutes away from their long-awaited zenith.

On the strength of that, few would bet against the "noisy neighbours" staging an after-hours party in Milan.


It’s practically impossible to concentrate on the FA Cup, League Cup, Premier League and Champions League. Something must give and, this year, they decided to go for the Champions League.

— Matija Nastasic on his former team Manchester City

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