LONDON: Manchester City have already scored one important European victory since the resumption in persuading the Court of Arbitration for Sport to quash the two-year ban imposed by UEFA for alleged breaches of financial fair play.
Now they want another big win, by completing the second-round victory over Real Madrid set up by their 2-1 success from the first leg in the Spanish capital.
The CAS verdict removed a weight of pressure from the shoulders of City’s players. Their second-place finish behind new champions Liverpool in the Premier League ensured an 11th successive campaign in Europe’s elite club competition next season.
City’s form since the resumption has been excellent. They won eight out of their remaining 10 league games, including a 4:0 win over Liverpool. Their only slips were by one-goal margins against Chelsea and Southampton then against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-finals.
That meant a runners-up finish, 18 points behind Liverpool and 15 ahead of third-placed neighbours Manchester United. Hence Guardiola had the luxury of being able to experiment in the concluding 5:0 win over Daniel Farke’s relegation-bound Norwich.
At half-time Guardiola replaced central defender Eric Garcia, midfield anchor Rodri and midfielder Phil Foden with Fernandinho, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez. Obviously each of the six men was being given 45 minutes in which to earn a starting role against Madrid.
Rodri may start against Madrid rather than Gundogan but the latter has always risen to the challenge in the Champions League. His ability to help hold possession and dictate the flow of a game can be important as City work to hold Madrid at bay.
Winning the Champions League has been the ultimate goal ever since the Abu Dhabi United Group bought City in 2008. This could be their best chance. Losing to Madrid would be a massive disappointment, especially after winning in Spain. But it would not yet be the end of City’s world: after all, Guardiola has one year left on his contract.
City have two enforced selection issues. One is at leftback: Benjamin Mendy is suspended so Joao Cancelo is the likely deputy rather than out-of-favour Aleks Zinchenko. In attack club record marksman Sergio Aguero is not ready after undergoing surgery on a knee injury. City hope he will be fit for the Final Eight, assuming they beat Madrid.