Manchester City will travel to the Spanish capital of Madrid to kick-start their second appearance in the UEFA Champions League and to beard the lion in its den. Roberto Mancini's side will face off against Real Madrid CF, a club arguably one of the most historic, glamorous and successful in European club football.
Real Madrid (ESP) v Manchester City (ENG) at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu
7.45 pm BST (6.45 pm GMT)
Where to Watch
Live coverage will be available, from 7 pm BST onwards, on iTV 1 and iTV 1 HD. Live radio commentary will be available on BBC Radio 5 live. Live text updates and commentary will be available on UEFA's MatchCentre.
City have enjoyed a solid, if unspectacular start to the defence of their league title, with eight points from the opening four games. The champions are only two behind early pace-setters Chelsea and are set to welcome talismanic striker Sergio Aguero and the always dangerous Mario Balotelli to the first team... signs the Madrid defence will have to put in triple-shifts to keep the English club at bay.
Jose Mourinho's Madrid, on the other hand, have been poor... almost abysmally so. The stirring Spanish Super Cup win over arch-rivals Barcelona aside, the nine time Champions League winners have been off-colour and lethargic in all their league games, a mere shadow of the ruthless machine that decimated opposition (including mighty Barcelona) last season.
Whether Madrid's alarming dip in form is because of mental fatigue (something Mourinho has admitted he is concerned about) or the Cristiano Ronaldo "I am sad" incident will always be up for debate... at least until the Galácticos get back to winning ways.
- Last Five: L L W W L
- Most Recent: 0-1 v Sevilla (at Sanchez Pizjuan) in La Liga
- Last Five: W W D W D
- Most Recent: 1-1 v Stoke City (at Britannia Stadium) in Premier League
The good news for Mourinho, at least for now, is that he will have a full strength squad to choose from. There are no injuries, major or minor, to any of his players, although the whole Cristiano Ronaldo incident continues to rumble on.
The bad news for the Spanish club is City will bring both Aguero and Balotelli to the Bernabeu. The Argentinean injured himself in the season opener against Southampton but returned to light training last week and has been selected in the squad to travel to Spain. Balotelli, one of the stars in his country's run to the final of Euro 2012, has recovered from surgery to his eye and should play some part in the game. The recovering Aguero and Balotelli aside, the only other point of concern for Mancini will be youngster Jack Rodwell, who still carries a knee injury. However, given the ease with which new signing Javi Garcia slotted into the team (the former Real Madrid man scored the equaliser against Stoke), Rodwell may not be missed.
- Real Madrid: Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; Alonso, Khedira; Ozil, Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo; Higuain
- Manchester City: Hart; Maicon, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; Yaya Toure, Javi Garcia; Silva, Nasri, Tevez; Aguero
The identity of Madrid's first 11 was never in question last season. This year, however, the arrival of Croatian playmaker Luka Modric has changed the equation. The former Spurs man has already shown himself to be a valuable addition to the squad and based on recent performances it is difficult to see Mourinho leaving him out for this game.
Starting with Casillas in goal (who else?!), we have Spanish internationals Alvaro Arbeloa and Sergio Ramos, along with Portugal's Pepe and Brazil's Marcelo in defence. The two-man midfield pivot will have an important task when the match starts - support the attack but also ensure the power, pace and precision of City's counter attacks, led by long-time Madrid transfer target David Silva, do not unduly trouble Casillas. The choice here, as we see it, is between Sami Khedira and loan signing Michael Essien; Xabi Alonso is a given.
The on-loan Chelsea midfielder of Mourinho's Chelsea would be invaluable in this situation - an all-action, hard-tackling box-to-box midfielder with an eye for spectacular goals. However, since his injury, Essien has not been the same player. In addition, he lacks match fitness, meaning that while he may be tempted, Mourinho is likely to stick with Khedira... unless, of course, he wants to shake things up. If he does, then he might start up front, where the likes of Angel di Maria, Jose Callejon and Gonzalo Higu(both of whom had impressive seasons last year) are waiting in the wings.
As far as City are concerned, they too have a very strong squad but an equally well-defined, for now, starting 11. If Aguero is fit to play, he will start... that is almost certain. From the back, Hart, Kompany, Lescott and Clich are a given. Brazilian right back Maicon, a one-time Madrid target, stood in for the injured Micah Richards against Stoke and did well, meaning he will probably retain his place. Madrid will be vulnerable down the left flank, with an equally attack minded Marcelo in that position. It should, therefore, be an interesting battle between the two. Former Real Madrid youth product Javi Garcia returns to the Bernabeu and will be eager to impress. He had an excellent game against Stoke and will, like Maicon, probably retain his place.
Up front, David Silva is a given and his performance, vis-à-vis Ronaldo's will be worth keeping an eye on. Frenchman Samir Nasri is another who could trouble the Real backline and a revitalised Carlos Tevez is always a threat and with options like Bosnia's Edin Dzeko and Balotelli on the bench, Mancini has the freedom to chop and change as needed.
Based on recent form, it is hard to see Madrid winning this. But then again, it is the incredibly tough games that seem to bring the best out of Mourinho's side. If, somehow, the Portuguese can convince his charges, they are actually playing Barcelona, then City's harsh introduction to Champions League football could well continue. Otherwise, a draw is the most likely result, with a win for the English club the outside bet.
Real Madrid 2 - Manchester City 2