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HomeSportsFootballManchester City: 3 Key Battles to Watch Out for

Manchester City: 3 Key Battles to Watch Out for

Manchester City’s rise as a football giant is marked by their developing rivalry with European powerhouse, Real Madrid. Their matches in the Champions League are eagerly anticipated because it is widely believed that these two teams are the best in Europe. The winner of their encounters often goes on to clinch the title. Madrid poses a significant obstacle for City as they aim to become the second club ever to retain the Champions League after Real Madrid.

The quarterfinals of the Champions League are upon us and the marquee tie will kick off as Real Madrid host Manchester City at the Santiago Bernabeu today. Matches between these two are always interesting because it’s a clash between two of the greatest managers in football history. Pep Guardiola has revolutionised football while Ancelotti will go down in history as the ultimate trophy winner.

That battle will probably have its best iteration yet because Real Madrid have never been better and have revenge on their minds while City are a machine that rarely makes mistakes.

As the two maestros on the touchline get ready for a fight with their pieces on the pitch, here are the top three battles that will shape the tie-

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Jude Bellingham vs Rodri

The biggest strength of Carlo Ancelotti as a manager is actually the opposite of Guardiola. The Italian is not wedded staunchly to one philosophy and will keep changing his tactics to suit the players. In the last three games, Madrid have played three different formations- 4-3-1-2, 4-3-3, 4-2-2-2.

Ancelotti has that freedom due to a glut of players at his disposal who are extremely fluid positionally. Jude Bellingham personifies this multi-positional skill. He has been deployed as one of the two deeper midfielders in a 4-2-3-1, as box-to-box midfielder in a 4-3-3 and as a wide midfielder/forward in a 4-2-2-2.

However, no matter what role he plays, he always finds himself in the pocket of space between the opposition centre-backs and the defensive midfield.

Enter Rodri. The Manchester City midfielder is the man who keeps the Cityzens ticking. Rodri hasn’t lost a game as a City player for 64 games, an unbelievable record which shows that it is nearly impossible to get one over them as long as their metronome is in the lineup.

It is because of two reasons. Firstly, Rodri’s press-resistant skills allow City to play out from the back, suck in the press, and they play through it. Secondly, his smart positioning and tactical fouling skills completely shut the biggest attacking threat the opposition has against City, which is transitions.

However, he hasn’t yet faced a challenge as unique as the one Bellingham will provide. The Englishman’s understanding of the game belies his young age. He is already a leader at Madrid and that is because of his all-around game. He ghosts into the penalty area at the right moment, he holds his position but also roams to scramble the opposition’s defensive shape, and his skill of laying the ball off and then making orchestrating third-man runs into space is probably second to none in world football.

Rodri will need ample help from his defenders and inverted full-backs to tackle this threat which comes from one player but remarkably, from all sides.

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Kyle Walker vs Vinicius Jr

Pep Guardiola’s kamikaze control system in possession works like a treat because he has extremely pacy and intelligent defenders to deal with the opposition when they break and City find themselves short in numbers at the back. Kyle Walker is the perfect combination of smart and pacy.

In a battle of titans, he will be up against Madrid’s trump card in Vinicius Jr. Gone are the days when Karim Benzema used to say not to pass to Vinicius because “he’s playing against us”. A mature Vinicius with an end product has catapulted himself into world-class territory.

He is a modern spin on the classic inside forward. He does his best work starting from the left and cutting inside but he is as good with his link-up play and running at defences as an old-school winger. That threat allows him to mix it up and become a nightmare for opponents.

Kyle Walker still retains the rapid pace to counter Vinicius’ threat but with the two teams playing each other almost every season, his advancing age is clashing with Vinicius reaching his peak. Could this be the year when the next generation finally wins out?

Aurelien Tchouameni vs Erling Haaland

Carlo Ancelotti has waxed lyrical about Toni Kroos’ effect on games but this might be a fixture where he loads up his side with physicality instead of buildup players as City are expected to boss possession. A byproduct of that would be the quartet of Valverde, Camavinga, Rudiger, and Tchouameni all playing in the starting XI. Of course, that would mean Tchouameni playing a position he doesn’t like but plays so well that he is unironically “suffering from success”.

Playing centre-back against La Liga teams where Madrid expect to have the bulk of possession is one thing though. Tackling the threat of Erling Haaland is another thing entirely.

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The Norwegian’s game with Kevin de Bruyne is coming along ominously for the rest of Europe. Haaland is as close to a guarantee of goals as you can get at this level. He can beat you in a foot race, outmuscle you if he’s playing with his back to the goal, outjump you for an aerial duel, and finish like a poacher if given space in the box.

In Rudiger and Tchouameni, it is perhaps the pair best suited to tackle that multi-dimensional threat. Haaland will still look to exploit Tchouameni’s lack of experience playing as a centre-back and seek to drag him out of position for the likes of Foden and Silva to ghost into spaces. It’s a battle that could well decide if Madrid have something to hold on to when they go to City’s den.

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