City and Real eye Champions League quarter-finals berth - GulfToday

City and Real eye Champions League quarter-finals berth


Real Madrid players attend a training session ahead of their Champions League match against Atlanta. Courtesy: Twitter

Gulf Today Report


The two European giants Manchester City and Real Madrid will look to book their berth in the quarter-finals of the Champions with win over Mochengladbach and Atlanta respectively on Wednesday.


Manchester City are running away with the Premier League title but Gladbach are in a tailspin after losing all of their six games since the Feb.15 announcement that coach Marco Rose is joining Borussia Dortmund next season. Just like the first leg, this game will be played in Budapest, Hungary, because of German restrictions on travel from Britain during the COVID-19 pandemic. City are 14 points clear in the Premier League and can focus on trying to win the Champions League for the first time.


Two seasons ago as City won the first ever domestic treble of trophies in England, Pep Guardiola branded the possibility of ever doing a quadruple "almost impossible".


A season characterised by injuries, fixture congestion, player fatigue, coronavirus infections, and for City no pre-season, should have made the feat more improbable than ever. Yet, City remain on course to prove Guardiola's prediction wrong.


A commanding 14-point lead at the top of the Premier League means it is a matter of when not if a third title in four years is sealed.


City's 23rd win in 24 games in all competitions at Fulham on Saturday exemplified how Guardiola has managed his side into this position.


Fresh from beating Liverpool at Anfield and just one defeat in six games, Fulham were swotted aside 3-0 despite City making seven changes.


That took Guardiola's tally of changes in the Premier League this season to a league high 94.


Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez were among the star names to spend the full 90 minutes resting on the bench, while Raheem Sterling was not even included in the matchday squad.


"What we have done the last two, three, four months, everybody is involved," said Guardiola.


"Sometimes it is difficult but everyone has to make a contribution to win games and we will arrive at the end of the season fighting as best as possible." As the crunch of a year without fans through the gates due to Covid-19 restrictions has hit even European football's wealthiest clubs, it is perhaps no surprise that backed by Abu Dhabi state wealth, City have proved more pandemic proof.


After being thrashed 5-2 at home by Leicester in their second game of the season, Guardiola was afforded the funds to splash out £62 million ($86 million) on centre-back Ruben Dias from Benfica.


City had already previously spent over £300 million on defenders in Guardiola's reign on Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy, Joao Cancelo, Aymeric Laporte, John Stones and Nathan Ake.


On top of the arrivals of Dias and Ake, the signing of Ferran Torres took City's summer spend over £120 million. But it is Dias' presence that has had a transformational impact.


The Portuguese international is one of the few men Guardiola refuses to rotate, starting all but one Premier League game since he joined the club in September.


Dias has also brought the best out of John Stones after two poor seasons since a starring role at the 2018 World Cup for the England international.


For all City's domestic success, Guardiola's team selection at the weekend made it perfectly clear that the Champions League remains the priority.


The only major trophy to escape the Catalan since he arrived in Manchester five years ago is the one the club's owners brought him to the club to deliver.


But rarely have City's resources also given them such an advantage in Europe.


With Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain still involved in tight title races and Barcelona and Juventus already out of the competition, City can afford the luxury of cruising towards the finishing line in the Premier League, while saving their energy for the Champions League.


Meanwhile, Karim Benzema is back in top form after an injury-enforced absence, giving Real extra strike power against Atalanta.


Benzema scored three goals in his two matches since returning to the squad, including two that gave Madrid a 2-1 win over Elche in the Spanish league on Saturday.


Madrid will also have captain Sergio Ramos available for Tuesday's match following a long injury absence that ended in the game against Elche.


Left back Marcelo may also return after an injury layoff. Atalanta has won all its European matches away from home this season, including a 2-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield.


Coach Gian Piero Gasperini has almost a full squad available, although defender Remo Freuler is suspended following his red card in the first leg. Atalanta has won three of its last four matches in Serie A since the first-leg loss to Madrid.


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