MANCHESTER, ETIHAD STADIUM -- A club of Real Madrid's caliber should always make it to to Champions League Semifinals. Manchester City's coach Manuel Pellegrini said in the pre-match press conference that it was "an honor" to be in this stage of the competition, and while Zinedine Zidane agreed with him one could also say that it is Madrid's duty to reach the Semifinals.
This will be the first time Manchester City play this late in the European competition, and Madrid certainly have a more experienced roster with players like Sergio Ramos, Cristiano Ronaldo, Toni Kroos or Luka Modric who have featured in big games and lifted the Champions League trophy already once in their career.
However, Los Blancos have been struggling defensively -- they conceded twice against Rayo -- and they must be careful against City's powerful offensive line of Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Agüero, David Silva and Jesús Navas. If Zidane's men want to succeed and advance to May's Final in San Siro, they might need to be very careful with the ball and control the tempo of the game, something that will not be easy to do with Fernandinho and Fernando trying to steal the ball away from Madrid's midfielders.
Zinedine Zidane confirmed in the pre-match press conference that both Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo have recovered in time from their injuries and will be starting the match. Ronaldo's firepower and Benzema's ability to combine with Bale and Ronaldo himself will be crucial for Madrid's chances.
Meanwhile, Pellegrini said that Yaya Toure will not be available, something that will not be very relevant this time around given that he has not been a big force in the midfield as he used to be.
Either way, it will be very important for Madrid to score as many away goals as possible, because that will make their job next Wednesday much easier. Nonetheless, Manchester City will also have their chances and Madrid might not be as heavy favorites as some pundits indicate.
Opponent: Manchester City (Bitter and Blue)
Coach: Zinedine Zidane
League position: 3rd, one point behind Barcelona and Atlético de Madrid.
Probable starting lineup (formation, r-l): 4-3-3. Keylor Navas-Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo-Casemiro, Modric, Kroos-Bale, Ronaldo, Benzema.
Potential game-changers off the bench: Isco, James Rodríguez, Lucas Vázquez, Jesé Rodríguez.
How they got here: Real Madrid won their group and then knocked AS Roma and Wolfsburg out in the Round of 16 and the Quarterfinals respectively.
You'll know things are going well for Real Madrid if this is happening: If Kroos and Modric are involved and controlling the game while Ramos and Pepe prevent City from having dangerous chances through counterattacks, good things will happen for Madrid sooner or later.
Real Madrid might be in trouble if you see a lot of this: If Ramos and Pepe fail to defend properly and let De Bruyne and Agüero play with freedom, it's hard to see City not scoring.
This is the reason (your team) will advance to the Champions League final: Manchester City have high-quality players but they have not played such a big game as a unit just yet. Madrid have far more experience and that could be decisive.
Prediction: Manchester City 1-2 Real Madrid