Manchester City have new-found Champions League final aspirations, if the wall decorations in the player/journalist ‘mixed zone’ area after the goalless draw with Real Madrid are any indication. The ‘Road to Milano’ posters, advertising the location of the showdown are up there for the first time.
The small matter of beating the Spanish in their own stadium will be necessary before that, though captain Vincent Kompany observed in the aftermath of the first leg that 0-0 is “an uncomfortable result” and “a pressurising result” for Zinedine Zidane’s players “because you are at home and your fans are expecting you to go forward and score goals and that can leave gaps.”
Kompany has a captain’s way of pronouncing what the side is capable of – “my team” and “my strikers” – which will encouraging for those who fear, with justification, that failing to humble Real lacking Cristiano Ronaldo and thus at their moment of optimum weakness on Tuesday night may come back to bite City. City will score in the Bernabeu: don’t doubt that, he insisted. “If you are going to have a draw at home, which is not a bad things against Real Madrid, then 0-0 is the best result. Then again, I still back my team to score over 180 minutes. I would not expect us not to be able to score one goal.”
It is repelling the artillery fire which will confront them before such a goal comes which will be the challenging part. “You guys can predict what’s going to happen,” he said – and indeed the course next Wednesday in the Spanish capital will not require the skills of a tactical genius to intuit. Real will go at City like a train, looking to replicate the way they overturned Wolfsburg’s 2-0 home win in the Bernabeu. Yet that is where opportunity lies. Even when defending a 2-0 away win in Italy against AS Roma, in the round of 16, the Spaniard’s need to entertain at home created spaces in behind for chances for the Italians. A team with the counter-attacking strength of City could profit.
“They are going to try and put us under pressure early doors, try and get that goal and the longer we are in the game the more we get a chance,” Kompany said. “That’s what we need to try and make use of.” And for those of the glass half full disposition, City’s away record in Europe has also surpassed the home performances, with victories in Monchengladbach, Sevilla and Kiev.
The dyanmics certainly feel different than the Springtime trips to Barcelona in the past few years, trying to overcome home defeats and looking doomed from the off. “I think that’s the main thing,” said Kompany. “We are very much in the tie. If I was playing an away game and it was a 0-0 result it is an uncomfortable result. It’s a pressurising result because you are at home and your fans are expecting you to go forward and score goals and that can leave gaps. We’ve proven against Paris Saint Germain how dangerous we can be on the counter.”
The challenge, of course, will be dealing with a Ronaldo who is expected to have returned from injury by next week.
“Of course I’ll need to have a good day,” Kompany said. “Of course you need help of your team-mates and if your team plays well you can handle him. With Ronaldo it’s not so much his strength, it’s more his speed. He does everything a step faster than the other strikers. Even though you know where he’s going he can take a touch that puts him a position to shoot so quickly. You might just not get there in time. He’s a danger at any time and any moment he has the ball. It’s that speed in everything he does.”