How can Real Madrid overcome the Manchester City hurdle?

Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid will have to script their first-ever win at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City to book a place in the Champions League semi-finals.

The record champions of Europe, Real Madrid are favourites heading into a Champions League tie on most occasions or to go all the way in the competition, but that is not the case this time out against Manchester City.

Having won the treble last time out and smashed Real Madrid 4-0 at home in the semi-final second leg last season, Manchester City are favourites to go through. Last season when the two teams met in the semi-finals, the first leg was played at the Santiago Bernabeu, and it ended 1-1. The return leg at the Etihad Stadium was a nightmare outing for Los Blancos.

They suffered throughout the 90 minutes. The home team dominated the majority of the ball, created a truckload of chances and ended up coming out top with the scoreline of 4-0.

The win was more of a statement by Pep Guardiola’s team saying they are the new ‘Kings’ of Europe. This time around, the story is quite similar so far, as Real Madrid have failed to win the home leg, which ended 3-3.

While the scoreline does suggest that it is all square, the reality is that City have a massive advantage. They have never been beaten at home by Los Blancos and given what they did to them last time out, they will be confident of getting the job done this time out as well.

But, as they say, if there is one team in the world that can do the impossible on a Champions League night, it is Real Madrid. Irrespective of the odds, the opposition, the venue and the players, they will always have a chance of going through because that is the legacy of the team in white. The Hard Tackle explores how Real Madrid can win at the Etihad and secure a spot in the semifinal.

Moving away from the 4-4-2 diamond

Since the start of the season, Real Madrid have been playing in a 4-4-2 with a diamond in the centre of the park. The formation allows Jude Bellingham to play as an attacking midfielder behind the two forwards Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior.

It also gives them a base of two central midfielders and a defensive midfielder who shields the backline. But, all this needs to change because of a few reasons. Real Madrid do not have Aurelien Tchouameni available for this fixture with the Frenchman suspended.

Meanwhile, Eder Militao is not fit enough to start here. If he was any close to full fitness, the Brazilian centre-back would have played a major part in their last league outing but he was on only for a couple of minutes. It’s very unlikely that Ancelotti will take the risk of starting him in such a big clash when he has hardly played any football since returning from injury.

With Tchouameni unavailable and Militao not 100% yet, Nacho Fernandez will be the centre-back alongside Antonio Rudiger. Guardiola will be aware of this and he will ask his players to push hard at Nacho. Ancelotti will have to ensure he is well protected which is why they will have to implement a 4-5-1 which will on most occasions look like a 4-4-2 flat.

Luka Modric from the start

Manchester City will look to control the tempo of the game, have the majority of the ball and slowly push Real Madrid on the back foot. While the details of who plays where could change, City’s game plan under Pep Guardiola is simple, keep the ball, keep creating chances and score as many as possible.

Manchester City will score early and push Real Madrid on the back foot, Los Blancos will have to ensure they stay in this game for as long as possible. They can afford to give them easy scoring chances and with Nacho playing as a centre-back, Ancelotti might start with Eduardo Camavinga as the defensive midfielder.

Without the ball, Real Madrid could be seen in a 4-5-1 formation, where Camavinga will have the support of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in the centre of the park. Modric might not have the legs but he surely knows how to keep hold of the ball and control the tempo.

The team in white could look at the Croatian international to once again weave the magic alongside his partner in crime Kroos. While reports suggest that Ancelotti will never go ahead with both of them in the centre of the park, one can expect the unexpected against a team like City.

The duo will support the young Frenchman from a central role while Federico Valverde will take care of the right flank. Vinicius Junior will have to do a lot of defensive work on the left. While Bellingham will also drop he could play as a false nine who holds the ball and release it out wide to bring Valverde and Vinicius into action on the break.

Rodrygo to come off the bench

Playing Luka Modric from the start and shifting formations might look negative. But that is one way to ensure Real Madrid are in the game when the final 20 minutes arrive, and this is when they can shift back to a 4-4-2 diamond or even a 4-3-3 attack depending on the situation.

As long as Manchester City are not allowed to run away with the game, Real Madrid will have a chance of going through. Starting Modric and shifting to a defensive formation will result in Rodrygo starting on the bench.

Given the kind of impact he had back in the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League semi-final when he came on against City and helped Real Madrid win from an almost impossible situation, Ancelotti might fancy having such a great option to the bench.

If the scores are level or even if Real Madrid are a goal behind in the final stages of the game, bringing on the Brazilian winger could have a huge impact on the game. Apart from Rodrygo, Brahim Diaz is another player who might have a major impact on this game.

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