Manuel Pellegrini claimed Manchester City must tackle Real Madrid in next Wednesday’s Champions semi-final second-leg in the Santiago Bernabeu with the disadvantage of playing a league game 25 hours later than the Spanish giants this weekend.
City travel to the Spanish capital having held Real to a 0-0 draw at the Etihad Stadium, having denied Zinedine Zidane’s team the crucial lift of an away goal following three crucial second-half saves by goalkeeper Joe Hart.
But with City due to face Southampton at St Mary’s at 4.30pm on Sunday, more than 24 hours after Real undertake a 3pm kick-off against Real Sociedad in San Sebastian in La Liga, Pellegrini insisted his players must overcome the fatigue factor in Madrid.
“We have to play the second leg in Madrid, but before that, we must continue in the Premier League against a difficult team as Southampton,” Pellegrini said. “Unfortunately for us, we are going to have one day less (to recover).
“Madrid will play their game on Saturday and we tried to play on Saturday too, but it was impossible.
“So we play on Sunday, but we will give all we can to arrive to the final.”
Pellegrini made wholesale changes to his team for the FA Cup tie at Chelsea in February after City failed to have the game switched from a Sunday kick-off to Saturday prior to their Champions League round of 16 tie against Dynamo Kiev in Ukraine 72 hours later.
And while City travel to Southampton needing Premier League points to safeguard against the risk of failing to finish in the top four, the Chilean may yet make further changes to his team in order to give his players the best chance of reaching the Champions League final.
Pellegrini confirmed that David Silva will miss the second-leg after suffering a hamstring injury during the first-half against Real, but the former Real coach insists City’s 0-0 draw was a positive result.
Joe Hart saves from Pepe (2016 Getty Images)
“I don’t think Real are the favourites now,” Pellegrini said. “We have the same option as Real Madrid and we are not afraid to go to the Bernabeu. We will see which team wins that game.
“I would have preferred to win the game, but if you can’t win, the next best thing is to draw 0-0 because then you haven’t conceded an away goal.
“I have been there before. I don’t think it is worth going for a draw. We will try and win.”
Injured David Silva leaves the field (2016 Getty Images)
City faced a Real team weakened by the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, who missed out with a thigh problem, and with Karim Benzema forced off at half-time with a recurrence of a hamstring problem.
And coach Zidane admitted he could not offer guarantees that either player would be fit in time to play in next Wednesday’s second-leg.
“Cristiano felt something after the last training session, so that is why he did not play,” Zidane said. “That is all there is to it.
“We didn’t want to make things worse. Karim it was a little bit different, but little by little he felt a bit worse in himself.
“We didn’t want to gamble on his fitness. We know how important both players are for us.
“We hope they can both be in the second leg but we have to take it day by day.
“We are going to try and get them fit. That is our plan, but I can’t assure you of anything. I can’t tell you right now if they will be fit.”
City owed their result to goalkeeper Hart, whose saves from Sergio Ramos, Casemiro and Pepe kept the scoreline blank.
And the England international insists that, after holding Real at home, City can now get the result they need in the Bernabeu next week.
“We are not disappointed with the result. Bring it on,” Hart said. “We are ready. We have a brilliant squad who are coming to fruition.
“We’ve set it up for a good, old fashioned rumble at the Bernabéu.”