Real Madrid are set to play Manchester City at the Etihad stadium on 7th August, in what is expected to be a thrilling game in the second leg of a Champions League Round of 16 clash.
After winning the first leg 2-1 away from home, Manchester city have a clear edge over their opponents. Real Madrid have it all to do in the return leg, and they will have to do so without their captain and inspirational leader Sergio Ramos.
Real Madrid have been in excellent form since football resumed in Spain after the break caused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They won 10 games on the trot and drew their last game of the season to lift their 34th La Liga title. While their defence and midfield have been solid throughout the season, it's their attack that has been inconsistent.
The Merengues are no longer the force they used to be ever since a certain Portuguese footballer named Cristiano Ronaldo left them, but Real Madrid have managed to compensate the lack of goals with a tight defence.
However, it is going to be a completely different story against City as Real Madrid have to score at least twice to have any chance of progressing further in this season's Champions League.
Zinedine Zidane is one of the most successful coaches in the UEFA Champions League; he has not lost a knockout round tie in three successful campaigns. The Frenchman is widely known for his squad rotation and almost unpredictable starting lineups. Pep Guardiola and his squad will have a hard time trying to predict Real Madrid's starting eleven and especially the visitors' forward line.
Zidane has mostly played either a conventional 4-3-3 with two wingers or a 4-4-2 with two strikers. All their forwards except Mariano Diaz who recently tested positive with for COVID-19 are available for selection in the game against Manchester City.
Even Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio are available despite being injured for most of the season. Anyone among Asensio, Hazard, Rodrygo and Vinicius has a fair chance of starting the match. Benzema seems to be the only forward in the Real Madrid side who has cemented his position in the starting eleven. Isco also has a good chance of playing in the tie after starting in the first leg against City at the Bernabeu.
Marco Asensio could make the difference for Real Madrid against Manchester City
Marco Asensio has been in terrific form since he came back from his long term injury.
He has scored three times and assisted once in three starts and six substitute appearances. Asensio has made his presence felt in a positive way whenever he has been on the pitch for Real Madrid this season.
Over the years, Asensio has established himself as a big-game player; he has scored against teams like Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich.
He has experience of scoring goals in the Champions League knockout stages and played a key role in Real Madrid's three-peat in the competition between 2016 and 2018. Last year, despite Madrid being underwhelming in their Round of 16 defeat to Ajax, he managed to score two goals in that tie.
If Zidane choses to play a 4-3-3 against City, he has the luxury of choosing among five talented wingers - Hazard, Vinicius, Rodrygo, Brahim and Asensio.
Unlike Hazard and Brahim, Asensio is in better form and has more experience than Vinicius, Rodrygo and Brahim. His creativity with the ball at his feet and his crossing ability are sublime.
Asensio's long shots can be very useful against Manchester City who are known to have a weakness against shots from distance.
Even if Zidane wants to play Isco as an attacking midfielder, Asensio has a great partnership with the midfielder and have played many times with him, both for Spain and Real Madrid.
Real Madrid are in need of a star to rise to the occasion and get the job done against Manchester City. And who better than Marco Asensio who was out of action for most of the season?
Asensio now has a wonderful oppportunity of stepping up and end an injury-plagued season on a high note by helping Real Madrid advance to the Champions League quarterfinals and possibly beyond. The Spaniard has done it in the past and could do so again against City if he gets the nod from Zidane.Published 31 Jul 2020, 18:35 IST