2. Win the midfield battle and don’t allow Manchester City to settle down
I’ve mentioned the same thing in a lot of my articles before big games like this. Winning the midfield battle will be highly decisive in a big game, and that enables a team to control the flow of things and dictate the terms. But the opposition over here is a huge one, that can’t be dominated easily.
There is a reason why Manchester City are cruising this season in the Premier League and the Champions League, despite the absence of a star striker. It is because of their supreme technical quality and excellent squad depth in every position. Every player can survive the pressure in tight spaces and can create something out of nothing. With players like Kevin De Bruyne, Rodri and Bernardo Silva in the middle, and possibly any of Grealish/Foden/Gundogan, they can outnumber any midfield and gain control of the game with relative ease.
None of these players is physically dominant, but they are technically world-class and are very industrious on the pitch. City’s pressing isn’t as scary and relentless as Liverpool’s gegenpress, but it is well-planned and effective. Players surround the opponent having the ball in seconds, while also cutting off the available passing lanes. And their united press forces the opponents wide, where it becomes a simple task for the team to regain possession or take the ball out of play from there, and break the opponent’s momentum.
And yes, did I forget to mention that it is equally difficult to deprive City of the ball?
I might have exaggerated at some points, but City is indeed a well-built and well-run team. Against such a solid team, the only thing that can help Real Madrid is teamwork. Real have two of the greatest midfielders of all time in Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, two talented workhorses in Eduardo Camavinga and Fede Valverde, and a natural ball-winner in Casemiro. They have the individuals who can easily bully any team on their day, but they don’t seem like a team at times, especially during those phases in which they don’t have the ball.
Real’s pressing doesn’t have a proper structure, and they only seem to be pressing when an individual decides to press the opponent out of nowhere. If Real want to dominate City, the men in white need to press in unison. Fede Valverde and Luka Modric can be the runners when needed, but others need to cut off the passing lanes and support them, to ensure that it is a team effort.
Except for Casemiro, every other midfielder is press-resistant and they can operate in tight spaces. But to escape City’s pressure, it is equally important to be quick with their decision making and ensure that players move around to present themselves as an outlet, instead of being too static. The static nature of Real Madrid cost them a lot against Manchester City in the second leg in 2020, where they were easily outnumbered and couldn’t do a lot of damage due to their slow decision making.
In short, Real Madrid’s midfielders need to produce the perfect team performance to dictate terms in the first leg.