I must sound like a broken record each time we play a knockout game in the UEFA Champions League but we are on the cusp of another season definer. Tonight’s first-leg quarter-final against Manchester City is no different. But, we are somewhat heading into the unknown against the two time Premier League champions.
In the past three seasons we have had to continuously contend with Barcelona and Chelsea. And as much as it was a sigh of relief to avoid the Catalans, we have a stern test in the form of City. Although their title charge in England has dwindled, they possess an array of quality. Much like ourselves, they rely on a talisman up top in Sergio Aguero. Have a playmaker in David Silva who is made of similar stock to Angel di Maria. And a colossal captain at the back in Vincent Kompany – just like our own Thiago Silva.
The press may be building this up as some kind of Qatari derby due to the money outlaid by both clubs (it is too easy not to for a catchy headline). But, just look at the wealth of talent that will be on display tonight.
Coach Laurent Blanc was right with what he said in his pre-match presser. The visitors like to play on the deck. Attractive football. Manuel Pelligrini never really sets his teams up to defend which may be a key reason as to why it has taken them awhile to get into the latter parts of this competition. As quoted by the club’s official website, LB said; “Manchester City’s style of play doesn’t really suit us, because they share the same philosophy as us. We knew that Chelsea would let us have the ball and try to counter. City want to play with the ball, try and control the match. They are more comfortable attacking than defending, just like us. It will be a great battle, and the key to succeeding. There is going to be a great intensity in the game.”
The Mancunians have pace, power and that touch of flair. It’s a pure mystery to the outsider looking in as to why they are so far behind Leicester City at the top of the table. With a squad of players like theirs, they should be contesting with The Foxes. That being said, Europe is their last shot at silverware having already bagged the League Cup.
Just like against Chelsea in the last round, we really do need a positive result to take back to the Etihad. Having the first-leg at home is normally perceived as a disadvantage but as long we do our job at home, we can have no complaints.
The good news is that Angel di Maria is back! Having missed the weekend win over Nice due to injury, the Argentine is back in the squad. As to be expected Javier Pastore and Marco Verratti miss out.