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Real Madrid vs Manchester City, Champions League 2015-16 Match Preview

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Cristiano's health is dominating the headlines, but Gareth Bale will be the key to reaching Milan.

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Last week's scoreless draw at the Etihad has made the objective simple for Real Madrid: just win. Anything less would result in elimination.

Earlier today we learned that Karim Benzema, and surprisingly, Casemiro will miss the match with injuries, and that Cristiano Ronaldo will be fit to play. Inconveniently for Zidane, there isn't a clear replacement for either player.

Jesé relieved Benzema in the first leg, but he isn't a pure striker a la the Frenchman. Will Jesé get another crack at City's defense? Or has Lucas Vázquez's great form this year earned him a spot? Either way, Real will likely be sending out a dynamic Fábrica player against City.

And in midfield, there's no one else who has Casemiro's defensive abilities. Some are calling to wipe the dust off The Great Sergio Ramos As A Defensive Midfielder Experiment of 2015, but Zidane will likely pick either Isco or Mateo Kovačić to start, sliding Toni Kroos back into a deeper role.

At the weekend, both teams rotated their lineups for tough road fixtures.

Madrid traveled to La Real for arguably their most challenging remaining La Liga fixture, and both Benzema and Ronaldo stayed at home. A late Gareth Bale header secured three points, keeping Real very much in the title race. It was also a second consecutive strong defensive showing from Real, something which they'll need to replicate against City.

Meanwhile in the south of England, Manchester City traveled to Southampton and lost 4-2. In their 13 matches against the top eight clubs in the Premier League, Manchester City have won only once, and despite now being at risk of missing the top four, they have a chance to advance to the Champions League Final.

Against Rayo and Real Sociedad, Gareth Bale won the game for Real, and even with Ronaldo playing, he will be the key to Real Madrid advancing. Southhampton found success against City by running into space on the break, and by capitalizing on set pieces -- two things Bale has been extraordinary at as of late.

Having Keylor Navas in the form of his life certainly helps, as keeping City off the scoreboard could be the team's top objective. After looking wholly disorganized against Rayo, Real's defense has been totally dialed in against City and La Real.

Under Zinedine Zidane, Madrid have been fantastic at the Bernabéu, averaging 3.9 goals per game at home. In that time, Manchester City have averaged 2.1 goals per game on the road.

One win separates Real Madrid from Milan, and Atleti await. The world will be watching. Let's enjoy the match!

Projected Lineups:

Real Madrid: Keylor Navas; Marcelo, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal; Isco, Toni Kroos, Luka Modrić; Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lucas Vázquez

Manchester City: Joe Hart; Sagna, Otamendi, Kompany, Clichy; Fernando, Fernandinho, Jesus Navas; Iheanacho, Kevin de Bruyne, Sergio Agüero

Managing Madrid staff predictions:

Nathaniel Bauer: Real Madrid 3-1 Manchester City

Lucas Navarrate: Real Madrid 2-0 Manchester City

Marc Craig: Real Madrid 2-1 Manchester City

Mike Platania: Real Madrid 3-0 Manchester City

Timm Higgins: Real Madrid 2-1 Manchester City

Kiyan Sobhani: Real Madrid 1-0 Manchester City

Kevin Nobles: Real Madrid 1-0 Manchester City

Andrejs Klisans: Real Madrid 2-1 Manchester City

Om Arvind: Real Madrid 1-1 Manchester City