Four reasons City could stun Real Madrid: Gary Lim
Pellegrini's men hitting form at right time
SEMI-FINAL, 1ST LEG
MAN CITY v REAL MADRID
(Tomorrow, 2.45am, Singtel TV Ch 112 & StarHub TV Ch 212)
Not many are giving Manchester City a chance against Real Madrid in their Champions League semi-final, first-leg tie tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
However, that's what they said too about City's hopes when they were pitted against Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Paris St Germain in the quarter-finals.
The Citizens carried out a professional job over two legs to eliminate the French giants and, similarly, manager Manuel Pellegrini can smell blood against Zinedine Zidane's Galacticos.
Real look troubled. Two of their best players may not start at the Etihad Stadium.
Their defence is also under fire after they had to fight back from two goals down to beat Rayo Vallecano 3-2 on Saturday.
City, on the other hand, are in the groove.
They are in their best form since the turn of the year.
If Real think they already have one foot in the final, they may be in for a rude shock.
Here are the factors which may work in City's favour:
1 INJURY WOES
Only one player in Real's much-feared BBC trio of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo may start the game.
Ronaldo missed the 3-2 win over Rayo Vallecano on Saturday because of a thigh strain.
Real are hoping that he clears a late fitness test to start against City.
The Portuguese has been in scintillating form this season, with 16 goals in 10 appearances in the Champions League alone.
Even if he is passed fit, the 31-year-old is unlikely to be capable of operating at full capacity.
Benzema is a bigger doubt. The French striker limped out of the game against Vallecano, to the dismay of Zidane.
Benzema, with four Champions League goals under his belt, is widely seen as the player who provides the balance in the Real attack.
If only Bale from the BBC trio is fit to start, Vincent Kompany and his fellow defenders can heave a hugh sigh of relief.
2 REAL'S SUSPECT DEFENCE
They have been far from convincing in the knock-out stages.
It began in the Round-of-16 clashes against Roma, who had plenty of chances to score against them.
The 4-0 aggregate win over the Serie A outfit flattered them, to say the least.
Real capitulated against Wolfsburg in the away leg of the subsequent round.
Their defensive vulnerability was ruthlessly exposed by the Bundesliga side's brilliant counter-attacking play as they lost 2-0
The 3-0 victory in the return fixture might have demonstrated Real's fighting spirit, but it doesn't mask over their flaws.
Then came their La Liga clash with Vallecano on Saturday, when they once again showed lapses in concentration, although they recovered well to win 3-2.
Real survived all three occasions, but City are made of sterner stuff than Roma, Wolfsburg and Vallecano.
3 CITY IN A PURPLE PATCH
Pellegrini's side are peaking at the right time.
Their traditional late burst in form bodes well for them.
They are on a seven-match unbeaten run since losing 1-0 to Man United on March 20, scoring 17 goals and conceded only four.
If they can repeat their defensive performance in the 1-0 win over PSG in the second leg of the quarter-finals, they have a chance.
Not to mention they did it without captain Vincent Kompany, who should be fit to play against Real.
Even the absence of Yaya Toure might not hurt City, who can count on the blossoming Fernando-Fernandinho partnership in central midfield.
City's recent form also coincided with the return from injury of Belgian forward Kevin de Bruyne.
His two goals in the two legs against PSG proved instrumental and he may yet again hold the key to another upset win.
4 PELLEGRINI HAS POINT TO PROVE
Pellegrini has reason to feel aggrieved when he looks back at his single season in charge of Real in 2009/10.
He paid the price for finishing second behind Barcelona in La Liga, even though they scored a massive 102 goals.
Real were also eliminated in the Round of 16 in the Champions League by Lyon, but he felt that the club's Galactico policy of signing the biggest stars prevented him from finding the right balance.
Pellegrini once said: "It's no good having an orchestra with the 10 best guitarists if I don't have a pianist."
In a recent interview with Spanish newspaper Marca, he described his time at Real as "the most painful".
He also revealed that he nearly quit the club during pre-season, because he had no say in the club's transfers.
Pellegrini insisted that he is not out for revenge, but he will certainly be extra motivated for this grudge match.
We won’t just try to defend to reach the final. I have always tried to have a team who play good football, play well. We need a hot heart and a cold mind... We need our emotions under control.
— Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini
I think that the most important thing is to score away from home. At the Santiago Bernabeu, we are very strong and, obviously, we’ll have a lot of chances. Playing the second leg at home is important psychologically. A win is always a good result but, as long as we don’t lose there, we’ll be very confident at the Bernabeu.
— Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale
Bale: I have no problem with Ron
Gareth Bale has revealed he has an excellent relationship with Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo and has never had an argument with the Portugal forward.
The pair are the two biggest stars at the Bernabeu - Bale (above right) broke Ronaldo's world record transfer fee when he joined from Tottenham in 2013 - but the Welshman insisted there was no animosity between them.
They are expected to line up together for Real's Champions League semi-final, first-leg clash with Manchester City tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Bale said in an interview with The Times: "He (Ronaldo) speaks English which helped me when I first came here. We also have that link from the Premier League.
"We get on really well. The press make a lot of things that maybe we don't, but we get on fine.
"We've never had a problem. I've never had an argument with him. He's a very, very passionate person on the pitch - everyone knows that. He's very determined.
"People sometimes seem to take that the wrong way. We haven't had a problem."
Bale and Ronaldo are both known for the quality of their free-kicks and Bale said they shared responsibility from set-pieces.
"It's on the board: free-kicks left side (are for) him, free-kicks right side (are for) me. So we know exactly what's what," he added.
Without the injured Ronaldo, Bale led Real back from a 2-0 deficit with a double in a hard-fought 3-2 win at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday to keep Real just a point adrift of La Liga leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Bale was lauded as "phenomenal" by coach Zinedine Zidane with his performances in recent months living up to the world-record price tag that Real paid Tottenham Hotspur for his services three years ago.
However, the two-time Premier League Players' Player of the Year's admiration for the English game remains and he is keen to make an impact in his first match on English soil since swopping White Hart Lane for the Santiago Bernabeu.
"I always loved playing in the Premier League, I still watch it and it will be great to go back," said Bale.
Bale refused to accept that City are the underdogs.
"The most important thing is to get the victory," he added. "When you go into big games against big teams like that, no one is ever really the favourite.
"You have to work hard and play really well to win. We are going to go in now with confidence. We're looking forward to it, I'm excited."
City's 28-goal Argentina striker Sergio Aguero will also be facing a familiar foe, having spent five years with Atletico Madrid.
And Real defender Raphael Varane stressed the importance of not allowing Aguero the space to shine.
"He's a great player. We have to pay extra attention to him," said the France international.
"He's decisive and fundamental for City. We have to keep a close eye on him. We know his qualities, I think we must not leave him any spaces and be on our guard to stop him." - Wire Services.
Toure out for City
Midfielder Yaya Toure has been ruled out of the first leg of Manchester City's Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid tomorrow morning (Singapore time) with a thigh injury.
Toure was hurt in Saturday's 4-0 win over Stoke in the Premier League and is also doubtful for Sunday's trip to Southampton.
Captain Vincent Kompany and forward Kevin de Bruyne return after being rested at the weekend.
Meanwhile, Real stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema were both included in coach Zinedine Zidane's squad despite fitness doubts.
Ronaldo missed Saturday's 3-2 win at Rayo Vallecano with a minor thigh injury, but is expected to start on his return to Manchester, where he spent six years with Manchester United between 2003 and 2009.
Benzema limped off with a knee injury before half-time at Rayo.
- Wire Services.