Real Madrid CF Karim Benzema vs. Manchester City CBs Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias
This may very well be the matchup that decides the contest. Aymeric Laporte has slowly and surely put together an impressive resume for City at the heart of the defence. With Pep Guardiola’s highly possessive style of play, Laporte has been the perfect complement.
The Basque center back is remarkably assured with the ball and his aerial prowess has kept many opposition strikers at bay. City will undoubtedly look to maintain a high pressing line as a means to stimulate the occasional counterattack, which given Laporte’s technical ability should not be any cause for concern.
If that wasn’t enough, Guardiola also has the luxury of having Ruben Dias back in the fold after his recent hiatus due to a hamstring niggle he sustained against Peterborough in an FA Cup encounter in early March.
The City manager has praised Dias in the past for his tactical nous, and for his ability to provide a sense of calmness to the back line. Dias’ physicality will also be vital if City are to counter the ever-present threat of Karim Benzema.
The fact that the striker is getting on in age and relies mainly on movement and positioning to get into decisive attacking areas, both center backs can be depended upon to double back and prevent him from entering the final third.
Speaking of Benzema, he has been absolutely ridiculous over the course of this season, having netted 12 goals in 9 appearances in the Champions League alone. He has remained his club’s focal point, providing valuable goals in the clutch while also intricately linking play in order to get his fellow attackers involved.
To respond to this threat, City’s back line will have to remain vigilant throughout as Benzema routinely shifts out of his customary No. 9 position into the wider areas, providing much-needed space for the likes of Federico Valverde and Vinicius Junior to exploit.
He has a history of making life extremely difficult for his assigned marker, as he is perpetually in motion. Benzema also has a happy knack for appearing at the right time and location in order to receive a threatening ball, where he usually relies on placement, rather than power, to finish the job.
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His game is simple, yet well-honed and he will undoubtedly be an unrelenting nuisance to City’s back line. How successful they are in responding to it will go a long way in determining who makes it to the big finale on May 28.