Date:26th April 2022 at 7:30am
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Manchester City’s pursuit of a first ever Champions League title continues on Tuesday, as they host Real Madrid in the first leg of their semi-final tie. 

City negotiated their way through a group that included both Paris-Saint Germain and RB Leipzig, before knocking out both Sporting Lisbon and Atletico Madrid in the knockout rounds.

Now City face arguably their toughest test so far though, with Real having seen off both PSG and Chelsea over the past two rounds.

Karim Benzema will be of particular concern for City boss Pep Guardiola, with the Frenchman having scored 12 goals in this season’s competition, including back to back hat-tricks in the first two knockout rounds.

Here, we predict the starting XI that Guardiola will select for the visit of Real.

Goalkeeper

First choice ‘keeper Ederson has started all-but-one of City’s European games so far this term, and the Brazilian will expect to start once again. The 28-year-old has kept 23 clean sheets across all competitions so far this term, but will have to be at his best to add to that tally against Real Madrid.

Defenders

Guardiola has several headaches in defence, with Kyle Walker and John Stones both expected to miss the tie through injury. In their absence, and with Joao Cancelo suspended, Oleksandr Zinchenko coul be used as a makeshift right-back. The Ukrainian is extremely versatile and has played in several roles for City, and seems a more likely option then Fernandinho at right-back.

Zinchenko looks likely to be used at right-back in the absence of Walker and Cancelo

In the middle, Ruben Dias will most likely be partnered by Aymeric Laporte, who has been a regular in central defence this season. The pair have only started three Champions League games together so far this term, but have been Guardiola’s most used pairing in the Premier League and, with Stones missing, will expect to line up together.

Nathan Ake, City’s fourth centre-back option, will most likely be used at left-back, as he has on a few occasions of late. The Dutchman is accomplished in both roles, and will likely be used on the left to allow Guardiola to deploy Zinchenko on the right.

Midfielders

In midfield, Rodri will anchor the Citizens’ midfield ahead of Fernandinho. The Spaniard has started eight of City’s 10 European games so far, and will be crucial in Guardiola’s attempts to nullify Real’s midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Luca Modric and Casemiro.

Either side of him, Bernardo Silva will expect to fulfil one of the two midfield roles, having started nine of the club’s ten Champions League matches this season. The Portuguese has two goals and an assist in his last four games across all competitions, and Guardiola will be relying on him to perform well.

Silva will most likely be used in midfield, while De Bruyne could be deployed up front

On the other side, Ilkay Gundogan can expect to start and complete the trio that Guardiola has deployed most often in Europe. The German is yet to score in the Champions League this season, and Tuesday evening’s match would be the perfect time to do exactly that.

Forwards

Up front, Guardiola will face another selection headache, although he has almost all of his attacking options available for the visit of the La Liga leaders. Gabriel Jesus’ four-goal haul against Watford on Saturday means the Brazilian will be pushing for a start, however Kevin De Bruyne is more likely to start as a false nine. The Belgian has 25 goals and assists so far this season, and will undoubtedly be the focus of Carlo Ancelotti’s attention in the build up. Real will look to muffle the midfielder’s threat, but few would bet against him having some sort of impact on the tie.

Flanking De Bruyne will most likely be Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden. The two Englishman have 26 goals and 16 assists between them in all competitions this season, and will be two of City’s biggest threats against a backline that conceded three against Chelsea in the second leg of their quarter-final tie.

Foden will be hoping for a start ahead of the likes of Grealish and Mahrez

Riyad Mahrez, like Jesus, may feel hard done by if left on the bench, but the reality is that, with the second leg just a week away and crucial league fixtures also coming up, Guardiola must manage his squad in the season’s closing weeks.

While the dream of matching Manchester United’s 1999 treble may now be over after their FA Cup exit at the hands of Liverpool, the prospect of a first ever Champions League triumph will undoubtedly be enough to motivate City. The Premier League side face European royalty, though, and arguably the world’s most in form striker in Karim Benzema. Few would want to predict the outcome of this one, and it looks almost certain that the two sides will go to the Spanish capital next week with things hanging in the balance.

 
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