Manchester City’s “monstrous” Champions League semi-final task against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu presents Kevin De Bruyne with the platform to deliver the success to match his world-class talent, says Gary Neville.
One week on from City’s astounding 4-3 first-leg triumph at the Etihad Stadium, the champions of England and Spain lock horns in Madrid with their Champions League semi-final on a knife edge.
Sky Sports pundit Neville believes Pep Guardiola’s side must produce the “performance of their lives” to reach successive European finals at the expense of the 13-time winners, and keep their hopes of a Premier League and Champions League double alive.
“This is a monstrous game in midweek for City,” Neville said. “Manchester City versus Real Madrid is an event. The game last week was, but this on Wednesday is like a heavyweight boxing clash of the century.
“You have one every few years whereby you’ve got this historic club that has basically got this inbuilt resilience in this competition that punches well above its actual ability.
“Real Madrid were on the canvas a couple of times [against PSG, Chelsea, and at Man City] but they got up, and that is the thing Pep will fear most.
“However well City play, however good their football is, how much possession they keep, there will be a dangerous beast facing them that doesn’t know how to give in, how to stop, or call it a day. That is what is coming on Wednesday.
“Whereas Liverpool need a goal [against Villarreal], Manchester City need the performance of their lives in the Bernabeu.
“This game will have huge impact on Manchester City for the rest of the season, because if they do go out on Wednesday after losing last season’s final to Chelsea disappointingly, there will be a drain on Pep Guardiola and what he and the players want to achieve. It’s a big week.”
Neville: City favourites, but you cannot write off Real
Madrid’s staying power has seen them dump Paris Saint-Germain and holders Chelsea out en route to the last four and that never-say-die attitude weathered a relentless barrage from Manchester City in last week’s semi-final first leg to keep their hopes of reaching another final alive.
It is that spirit which Neville cites as the reason for his reluctance to rule out Real Madrid’s chances of progressing, despite believing Manchester City’s superior quality will help them navigate this latest, greatest hurdle to reach the Champions League final.
“I think City will go through, but you cannot write off Real Madrid because of the historic resilience they prove time and time again,” Neville added.
“Real Madrid were done in the first half at the Etihad, weren’t they? We thought City were going to do them 3, 4, 5, 6 without reply. But there’s something in the Real Madrid team.
“Real Madrid have a spirit in the Champions League that City don’t. It’s a big moment for City – a very big moment. Manchester City haven’t got that Champions league spirit yet, that history. They’ve struggled to come to terms with the competition, the fans have in terms of the early days getting used to it.
Real Madrid vs Man City team news
Real are without key defender David Alaba through injury but the Casemiro is fit to feature in midfield.
Casemiro’s availability, having only been fit enough for the bench last week, gives Carlo Ancelotti a selection poser over whether or not to retain the in-form Rodrygo, who has scored four goals in his last five games.
Man City could have Kyle Walker back in action. The defender, who has been absent for the last five matches while recovering from an ankle issue, has trained and was due to travel with the squad to Spain, with a late decision to be made.
John Stones remains sidelined after coming off in the first half of the 4-3 first-leg victory last week, while Joao Cancelo, suspended for that match, is available.
“Losing to Chelsea last year has given them the motivation – like hang on, we need this now! They’ll need everything and more. They needed it against Atletico to get through that. They’ll need everything and even more to get past Real Madrid because they are going to have to go to the end.
“City are favourites because they will score goals at the Bernabeu. Chelsea scored goals over there, they were outstanding, and City play very well. They pass the ball well and when you do that in an away stadium with the home team getting drawn forward by the crowd, City will get chances and flood them open.”
Neville: This is De Bruyne’s moment
De Bruyne played an instrumental role as Manchester City established their slender first-leg advantage with his side’s second-minute opener and an assist in last week’s absorbing 4-3 victory.
Neville insists De Bruyne’s world-class talent is irrefutable but believes Wednesday’s clash at the Bernabeu presents the Belgian with the opportunity to cement his legacy by guiding City to an elusive Champions League crown.
“Kevin De Bruyne is the man you know can be the difference,” Neville added. “He was brilliant, sensational in the first leg against Real Madrid and he’s going to have to be that again. This is his moment.
“De Bruyne has always been respected, loved by everyone in the Premier League, he’s a joy to watch, but to get to that next level of winning your team the Champions League, go and score the winner in the Bernabeu, put the performance in which brings him the success to go with his world-class talent. This is Kevin De Bruyne’s moment.”
Neville: Why Pep needs Champions League win
A staggering 11 years have passed since Guardiola last got his hands on the Champions League trophy when his iconic Barcelona team dismantled Manchester United in the 2011 final at Wembley.
Having revolutionised the game at Barcelona, the different challenge undertaken by Guardiola in Manchester has produced similar results with the exception of that elusive Champions League crown, which Neville believes stands between the Spaniard and City greatness.
“Pep had the greatest football team of all time at Barcelona,” he added. “I’ve never seen a football team like that over a three- to four-year period. But he’s doing it differently at Manchester City, he is doing it differently.
“He hasn’t got Messi, this phenomenon that existed in that team, and he probably wants to do it again. He needs to win that Champions League and if Pep Guardiola could win the Champions League and the Premier League this season, it would be sensational. City, along with Liverpool, are on the brink of greatness.”
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