Manchester City are set to visit the Santiago Bernabeu to face Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League 'Round of 16' tie. Facing the La Liga giants is never an easy task, especially given their stature in this competition.
Manchester City will also feel like this season is more important to them than ever in the Champions League in the light of their recent ban due to which they will be unable to compete in any UEFA competition for the next two seasons.
Having never won the European competition, the Cityzens will feel like this season is their best opportunity. They avoided losing any important players in the January window and they still have Pep Guardiola at the helm.
It is important to note that the English teams had a tough week in Europe this time. With Liverpool losing to Atletico Madrid, Tottenham losing to Leipzig and Manchester United drawing to Brugge, Manchester City will hope the hoodoo doesn't hit them.
As Guardiola returns to Spain to face his former rivals, here are three players that he will rely on being in top form...
#1 Kevin De Bruyne
Kevin De Bruyne has been City's best player this term and he tends to thrive on the big stage. With that being said, he will look forward to this trip to Spain just like most of his teammates.
De Bruyne is a very creative player that seems to turn things into gold whenever he has the ball at his feet. The Belgian maestro is known for his wide range of passing, be it a simple lay off or a spectacular cross-field ball.
Obviously, the likes of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane have proven hard to beat this season so, the usual runs behind which De Bruyne tends to rely on may be limited.
However, Manchester City fans can be assured that De Bruyne will create at least a few chances for his attackers.
If the runs towards behind are good and the attackers are stepping up for the occasion, then it could be simple for Guardiola's team talk. Pass the ball to De Bruyne and be ready to run. That is how important he is to this City side.
Another player that will be important for Manchester City is their unsung hero, Fernandinho. He is one of the first names on the team sheet for a reason and there have been multiple occasions this season where City have missed out due to his absence.
Fernandinho is an important player for City because he covers the backline and carries out all the nitty-gritty tasks his teammates don't want to do. Without him in the team, City would lose all their balance, thereby conceding many more goals.
So much so, that Fernandinho has been called upon to slot into the defense given City's injuries this season. He has stuck to his task well and used all the traits he knows as a defensive midfielder to ensure attackers don't have a sniff at goal.
Real Madrid have a lot of creativity and flair in their attacking midfield which enables them to easily run rings around their opposition. However, Fernandinho is the best player to help City overcome that situation.
He will look to get tight to his man as much as possible and though he will need help from his the midfield, he will act as the general and will make it difficult for the Madrid stars to get through.
#3 Riyad Mahrez
Alongside De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez has been City's best player this season. He had an excellent performance recently against Leicester City, where he got the all-important assist. Consequently, he is an assured starter for the Cityzens in Madrid.
In the group stages of the competition, Mahrez provided an impressive four assists for Pep Guardiola. This is pretty much indicative of his play as he is a versatile winger that provides much more than simply cutting inside and being greedy.
Although Manchester City need someone to step up and grab a goal, the skillful Mahrez is more than comfortable to cut inside and take the shot on himself. He has shown this in his eight goals for City across all competitions this season.
Real Madrid defenders will need to be careful when playing against the Algerian because he really is unpredictable. It's hard to tell what he will do with the ball at his feet and that's what has made him a pivotal player in Manchester City's ongoing season.Published 26 Feb 2020, 08:32 IST