Manchester City finally take on Real Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie at the Etihad Stadium on Friday, a match postponed from March.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some talking points ahead of the game.
Tie in the balance
City would have been clear favourites to progress had the match taken place as originally planned following their memorable 2-1 comeback victory at the Bernabeu in February, but the tie is now far harder to call. Since the season resumed after its three-month stoppage for the coronavirus pandemic, it is Real that have had the momentum. Zinedine Zidane’s men won 10 games in succession to overtake Barcelona and claim the LaLiga title. City have also looked good at times with some notable big wins (Liverpool 4-0, Burnley, Newcastle, Brighton, Norwich all 5-0) but they have also slipped up with losses to Chelsea, Southampton and – on the big stage of an FA Cup semi-final – Arsenal.
City with point to prove
The major event off the field for City has been in overturning the two-year ban from European competition they were due to serve from next season for alleged financial irregularities. There will have been much relief inside the club when the Court of Arbitration for Sport delivered its verdict last month, knowing they can now plan for a future that involves the Champions League. The whole episode could fuel City’s drive. There is a feeling that not all involved in the European game are happy about City’s sudden arrival at the top table and there may be a determination from within to prove that they belong.
Winning without Messi and Ronaldo
City boss Pep Guardiola and Real counterpart Zinedine Zidane boast extraordinary Champions League pedigree between them. Both won the competition as players and have savoured success more than once as coaches, yet there is still a perception they need to win without great players in their sides to truly underline their managerial enormity. In Guardiola’s case, that is Lionel Messi. It is nine years since the last of Guardiola’s two wins as Barcelona boss, which is an age for one of the greatest managers of his generation. After three semi-final losses with Bayern Munich, this is his fourth attempt with City after knock-out stage defeats to Monaco, Liverpool and Tottenham. Zidane guided Spanish giants Real to three victories in succession from 2016-18 but his side were powered by the brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo, who is now at Juventus.
City will again be without top scorer Sergio Aguero, who underwent knee surgery in June. There is hope the prolific Argentinian could still feature in the competition should City progress to the last-eight tournament in Portugal, but this game comes too soon and, in all likelihood, Brazil striker Gabriel Jesus will lead the attack. Left-back Benjamin Mendy is also suspended. Real will be without captain Sergio Ramos after his sending off in the closing minutes of the first leg. Eder Militao could play in central defence alongside Raphael Varane. There is again doubt over former Chelsea star Eden Hazard, who has endured an injury-hit first season at the club.
Kevin De Bruyne, who scored and set up City’s other goal in the first leg, will be the man Real fear most after an outstanding season. Raheem Sterling, who appeared to be attracting interest from Real earlier in the year, is another potential dangerman. City will want to shut down the supply lines to Karim Benzema, who has flourished since Ronaldo’s departure and has scored 26 goals this season. In terms of external factors, Real can call on plenty of big-game experience having won the competition four times in the past six seasons. With the game also being played behind closed doors, City will have no fans to back them. City might at least feel in better touch having last played a fortnight ago compared to three weeks for Real.