After surprisingly getting dumped out of the FA Cup by Arsenal, Manchester City must now focus on Real Madrid. The Spanish giants have been in tremendous form since returning from the coronavirus-enforced break.
The club went on a 10-game winning streak beating Valencia, Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal along the way to overtake Barcelona and emerge La Liga champions. How does the victory affect Manchester City?
To start with, form is a vital factor in football. Facing a team enjoying an 11-game unbeaten run in any competition can present a huge challenge to any opponent. When that team is renowned for it’s achievements in the said competition that makes the task even harder. Prior to the break brought about by the pandemic, Los Blancos were struggling to keep up with Barcelona in the title race. Their last match against Real Betis in March ended in a 2-1 defeat.
In the Champions League, the team lost 2-1 to Manchester City at the Santiago Bernabeu. It looked like the worst was to come with captain Sergio Ramos suspended for the return leg. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was injured, as was former Chelsea teammate and talisman Eden Hazard. It seemed the stars had lined up perfectly in City’s favour... until the world ground to a halt. Three months of shutdown as the world struggled to contain COVID-19, recoveries from injuries, rediscovery of form and renewed confidence. Now everything has changed.
Or maybe not everything. Of course, Sergio Ramos is still suspended having seen red. Unfortunately for Guardiola, Sergio Aguero is also out of the game after undergoing surgery in Barcelona as he will not recover on time to feature.
It could be argued that the team secured the initial victory without his input. But you can’t rule out his importance to the team when the going gets tough. Just one goal from him can turn the tide. His absence will definitely be felt.
Also, you don’t want to face Real Madrid at their best. Confident, ruthless, and dreaming again. Not in the Champions League, anyway. Los Merengues didn’t become 13-time champions by a mere stroke of luck.
After beating Barcelona to the title in Spain, and with league games out of the way, the focus is now fully on overturning the 2-1 scoreline against City. Can they do it?
A look at history can reveal a lot, particularly that between the two sides. In 2013, despite taking the lead twice at the Santiago Bernabeu with the first goal of the game coming in the 68th minute, Real still came back to beat City 3-2.
At this point in time, the tie is at the half-way stage. City cannot go into the match thinking they are already in the quarter-final of the competition. The defeat against Arsenal is a huge lesson in that respect. Moreso, when the opponent is Real Madrid. The manager believes he can turn things around.
“How can I not think that we can come back [against City]?” said Zinedine Zidane when asked about the game recently.
“We’re going to fight to get to the next round until the last second...,” he continued.
The key lesson for Guardiola and his troops after the surprise loss to Arsenal is simple. Go into the game against Madrid hungry and with no regard for the first leg. Consider it a must-win game and go all out for the win. If all we get in the end is a draw, only then will the result from the first leg count - we qualify for the next round.