Real Madrid vs Manchester City: Three key players to look out for

The Hard Tackle lists three players who can singlehandedly swing the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg between Real Madrid and Manchester City.

The final month of the 2022/23 season has begun, and all the competitions are nearing their conclusions. As for the UEFA Champions League, the semi-finals will begin this week, with Real Madrid hosting Manchester City at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday night.

Real Madrid might not have defended the league title well. But they are on the cusp of winning back-to-back UEFA Champions League crowns for the second time in the modern era. Liverpool and Chelsea have been Los Blancos’ victims in the knockout stages. And the Merengues will look to make it three Premier League scalps in a row this month.

On the other hand, Manchester City, unlike the hosts, will likely defend the Premier League title. And despite Arsenal being in close proximity in the standings, the ball is in the champions’ court. Meanwhile, the Citizens have usurped German clubs thus far in the Champions League knockout stages, easing past RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich.

Real Madrid and Manchester City also clashed in the Champions League semi-finals last season. And Los Blancos needed a late Karim Benzema goal to seal a 6-5 aggregate win. With the teams set to lock horns again this year, a few players will invariably hold the keys to tipping the scales in their side’s favour. With that in mind, The Hard Tackle lists three such stars ahead of Tuesday’s clash.

Ilkay Gundogan

Our list begins with a player whose future is uncertain but who remains a top performer for Manchester City. He has proven his credentials as the club captain this season while scoring crucial goals. We are, of course, talking about Ilkay Gundogan.

Gundogan is in the final months of his contract with Manchester City and has yet to commit his future to the Premier League champions. And his uncertain situation has captured the attention of Barcelona. Recent reports have also claimed that the German international is closer to joining Barcelona than staying at Manchester City.

Meanwhile, the 32-year-old remains a top performer for Manchester City and was recently in his element against Leeds United. And he netted a match-winning brace as the Citizens beat the Whites 2-1 to inch closer to winning the Premier League title.

After warming up nicely for the big game against Real Madrid, Gundogan will be raring to go on Tuesday. And with Pep Guardiola likely to shore up the resources in the middle of the park, the Manchester City captain can concentrate on delivering the goods in the final third. Expect such a role to bring the best out of the veteran midfielder.

Karim Benzema

The captains and leaders are dominating our list today, and we move on to Ilkay Gundogan’s counterpart in the opposing team. And Real Madrid skipper Karim Benzema will be the go-to man for Carlo Ancelotti against Manchester City this midweek.

The Frenchman remains Real Madrid’s top scorer this season. But fitness issues have hampered his output, and he is not the feared striker he was last season. Meanwhile, Benzema has found the back of the net in just one of Real Madrid’s last seven games across all competitions.

So the veteran striker is not in the best of scoring touches heading into Real Madrid’s biggest game of the 2022/23 season. But the onus still remains on the 35-year-old to deliver the goods in the final third on Tuesday.

Even if he does not get into scoring areas as much as he likes, the French striker can use all his experience to trouble the Manchester City defence. And Benzema’s movement will bring the in-form duo of Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo Goes into the equation in and around the Manchester City box. Expect him to save his best for such fixtures.

Kevin De Bruyne

With just one spot left on the list, there are several players eligible and can swing the tie on their own. They do not get any bigger than Erling Haaland. Meanwhile, Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo Goes will also fancy their prospects on Tuesday. But we have gone ahead with Kevin De Bruyne as the third pick.

The Belgian international has been sensational this season, even if some numbers do not suggest so. No player creates clear-cut goalscoring opportunities as well as he does. Meanwhile, he also backs up those numbers with a prolific tally of assists (27 across all competitions this term).

The 31-year-old might be approaching the final phase of his glittering career. But that is not stopping him from producing elite numbers, despite essaying different roles this season. And he often tends to reserve his best for the run-in period of a campaign.

Surely enough, De Bruyne has been top-class since the last international break. And after making his mark for Belgium, he has returned to club action with a vengeance. Meanwhile, after Manchester City failed to cross the Real Madrid hurdle last season, De Bruyne will be itching to run riot at the Bernabeu. Expect a remarkable display from the experienced playmaker.

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