If the Champions League was the hottest club in town, Man City are the guy that got in by slapping the bouncer with a wad of cash. There’s no judgement there. Just a fact. And the slapping had been going on for a while. Only last year did they finally manage to get in. Even then, all they could do was grab a drink at the bar and get thrown out before even getting close to the pretty women. But back home, they were doing much better. Winning the League with practically the last kick of the season, and inflicting the agony of losing it on their city rivals must have felt absolutely brilliant. This year, they walk into the club, pay cover charges, and leave a handsome tip for the bouncer. They will expect to do far better than the last time they were here.
Awaiting them however, is probably the toughest test they will face so far, since trying to keep Mario Balotelli from burning down the Etihad. In keeping with the clubbing analogy here (last one, I promise), it would be fair to say Los Merengues are on the guest list. They stroll in every year like it is their birthright to be there. Put together, Real and City have won a combined 9 European Cups. All 9 however, are on display at the Bernebeu and this coming Tuesday the Citizens will be able to take a close look at what it really is that they’re fighting for. The magnitude of the outlay that these clubs have put out in their pursuit of glory is mind-boggling to say the least. But that’s where the similarities end when it comes to European glory. One club has great aspirations of becoming a genuine force in Europe, while the other is intent on recapturing the euphoria of a brighter time in their history. Its been a decade since they won the Champions League. Their 10th. An unprecedented feat.
There’s something about the Champions League anthem that makes teams forget everything else. It is probably at that point that the players realize that this truly is an entirely different cup of tea to what they’re used to facing week-in week-out. Even so, you cannot ignore the misery that has been heaped upon Real Madrid. The recent run of poor results in the league have rattled the capital team who looked quite appalling in their defeat to Sevilla.
With the only real addition to the squad over the summer being that of Luka Modric, and the Special One’s penchant for keeping his side unchanged for as long as possible, they have looked a tired outfit. But the greatest setback has been Cristiano Ronaldo’s mystery sadness. Although there have been many explanations for it, his insistence that it is a professional issue leads me to believe that he has been barred from having his hairstylist go to work on him during half-time breaks. After-all, the use of hair gel isn’t one to be left to the amateurs. Besides, how else will he pass his 15 minutes while Mourinho tries to convince the rest of the team to pass the ball to him sooner so that he can do a couple extra step overs?
Manchester City haven’t lost since April, but haven’t had the most convincing start to the season either, with a hard fought victory at home to Southampton on opening day and a draw at the weekend against Stoke. Another shopping spree in the summer has meant that there are still certain players who are trying to fit in. But like I said, there’s something about that anthem.
As Sevilla showed on the weekend, if you shut down Xabi Alonso, Real Madrid seem to panic. He is their metronome, and will play a key role in the game. Most likely pitted against the monstrosity that is Yaya Toure, this battle will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game. Elsewhere, if Pepe can get through the game without scissor kicking someone in the forehead or getting sent off for scaring the referee, he will be their most critical defender. He is seemingly one of the 3 or 4 heads that are committed only to football (because let’s face it, he’s probably not the most popular guy with the ladies. No hair gel and all that!) that Mourinho was talking about. Team selection will play a big part, and Michael Essien will be hoping his adopted ‘daddy’ will give him a run out. Cristiano Ronaldo is an obvious threat down the left flank but it will depend on Jose’s motivational skills as to how effective he is. A video of a bikini-clad Irina Shayk playing in hair gel-o maybe?
*slap yourselves and get back to reading*
Yaya Toure. The half man half beast has easily been the best signing the club has made in the past few seasons. Considering they’ve bought enough players to start a separate all-star league, that is quite a complement. He is one of the best exponents of scoring from long range, an aspect of his game which is often overlooked. When things are going great, its all the big guns who fire, but when City need to drag themselves back into a match, it has always been ‘The Yaya’ doing the dragging. The fitness of Sergio Aguero will also be crucial, and if he is fit enough to start, it will boost morale in the Blue camp. He however, has never been on the winning side in the Bernebeu. Maicon’s ability to deal with Ronaldo and possibly Coentrao down his flank will also be a key area. I expect Mancini to play Milner on the right side of midfield, to give added protection. Samir Nasri on the opposite flank along with Clichy might fancy his chances against Arbeloa but his tendency to cut in from wide might work to the fullback’s advantage.
Milner, Barry and Javi Garcia to start, which means Silva will probably be on the bench. Also, unlike the weekend, Mancini will probably sacrifice a striker in favour of an extra man in midfield. Seeing as Aguero is coming back from an injury, Tevez will probably start ahead of him and Balotelli. Dezko isn’t really an option is he?
Jose lashed out at his players after the match against Sevilla saying he wanted to make 7 changes to the team at the interval. Angel Di Maria and Ozil might not start. Surely Modric must, not least because of his vague familiarity with this City team. Very few changes should be expected elsewhere, unless there are physical issues with some players. Kaka? That might be a good bet too.
Final Score : 3-3 with a Xabi Alonso goal from halfway, a Yaya Toure screamer and an OG from Nasri