The group stage of the UEFA Champions League kicks off with a mouthwatering fixture. La Liga champions Real Madrid will oppose English Premier League champions Manchester City at the mighty Bernabeu. The Spanish giants have a rich history in Europe’s top club competition, winning the European cup 9 times, more than anyone else. Manchester City won their first English title in 44 years in 2012, and are now searching for European success.
Los Bloncos however, have not been their usual sterling self. In fact, there are major issues surrounding Real Madrid. None bigger than the mental well-being of superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. There is little doubt the Portuguese winger is one of the best players in the world. However, Ronaldo has been feeling “sad” as of late, which has affected his play, and the morale of the club. There have been talks of division on the squad, which is disconcerting to manager Jose Mourinho. Real Madrid have only won once in their first four matches, which will add to the pressure inside the Spanish capital. Ronaldo will need to find “happiness” soon, or it could be a short European campaign for Real Madrid.
Mourinho hasn’t helped the situation, proclaiming “I have no team” after a 1-0 defeat to Seville over the weekend. That just adds to the burden the players have to face. Mourinho is under considerable strain from ownership and supporters to win a European title, and with bitter rival Barcelona winning the Champions League 3 out of the 5 years, the burden is that much heavier.
One bright spot for Real Madrid has been striker Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentine forward leads the club with 3 goals, and has been a threat to inside the box early in the season. Ronaldo has scored twice for Real Madrid but the goals have been lacking for Real Madrid so far.
Players such as Mesut Ozil and Karim Benzema will need to be much better for Real Madrid. Neither player has found the back of the net, with Benzema seeing very little of the pitch. There has been talk of friction between Benzeman and Mourinho, which is adding fuel to the fire in Madrid.
The back is reasonably solid, led by Pepe’s sturdy play. But there have been doubts about Alvaro Arbeloa, who has been inconsistent at the back. Sergio Ramos is reliable at centre back, but still gets caught going forward, when he should be sitting back.
Keeper Iker Casillas is still regarded as one of the best in the world, and will need to be at the top of his game, against a swarming Manchester City attack.
There is a lot less drama in Manchester. The Sky Blues are off to a satisfactory start in the English Premier League, sitting in fourth place, just two points behind table toppers Chelsea. City have not lost in their first four matches, winning two and drawing two.
But not all is rosy on the blue side of Manchester. Striker Sergio Aguero will miss most, if not all of the Champions league due to a knee injury. Aguero was the hero for Man City last season, scoring the goal that secured the Premiership for City last May. It will be up to Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko to provide the goals for City. Tevez has been enjoying an early renaissance for City, leading the squad with 3 goals. Nasri has one goal, while Balotelli has yet to find the back of the net after a terrific Euro 2012 tournament.
The midfield will swarm and attack which is difficult to defend. David Silva, who just signed a 5 year deal with City, is the talismanic figure at the centre of the pitch. A precise passer, Silva will be key to the City attack. Yaya Toure has scored twice from the midfield spot, and could move up to forward if needed. Samir Nasri has also scored twice, and could also go up front, but is preferred to stay in the midfield.
The back is patrolled by Vincent Kompany. The Belgian International is the leader of the Premier League champions and is perhaps the sturdiest defender in the Premier League. Look for Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy to start in the back as well for City.
Joe Hart is an excellent keeper who like his counterpart Casillas, must be on top of his game against a fearsome Real Madrid attack.
Yes there is plenty of drama at Real Madrid to rival some of the best soap operas in the country. However they are at home and the Bernabeu is special place during a Champions League match. City have plenty to prove after being knocked out in the Group Stage last season and with a Premiership title under the belts, Europe will be a major focus for Man City. Call it a draw. 1-1.
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