LONDON • Perhaps most pleasing for Manchester City before taking on Real Madrid is that their 4-0 victory over Stoke City in the Premier League on Saturday occurred without Kevin de Bruyne.
Before a serious knee injury in late January, the Belgian's contribution stood at 12 goals and 12 assists. In the six outings since he returned, four more goals have been added, including one in each leg of the Champions League quarter-final win over Paris Saint-Germain.
Today Zinedine Zidane's side are at the Etihad for the first leg of the Champions League semi-final. As manager Manuel Pellegrini stated following the hammering of Stoke, de Bruyne, who was rested, is one of the star turns who must play well if the final is to be reached.
Sergio Aguero's first-half penalty was his 23rd Premier League goal this season and places him one behind leader Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur.
Asked if the Real game is the Argentinian's chance to shine when it is really required, Pellegrini said: "Big players decide big games, so it's very important to have not only Kun (Aguero)- but a lot of players have to be in their best moment."
The Champions League semi-final clash between Real Madrid and Manchester City has been dubbed as a battle between the traditional European aristocrats (Real) and the nouveau riche backed by wealthy non-Europeans (City).
While both sides boast talented players and deep squads, there is no denying that Real have a far more storied history than City, who were struggling in the third-tier of English football less than a decade ago.
Here's a comparison of their list of domestic and continental honours:
Spanish Primera Liga: 32
Copa del Rey: 19
Spanish Super Cup: nine
Champions League/European Cup: 10
Uefa Cup: Two
Uefa Super Cup: Two
First Division/Premier League: Four
FA Cup: Five
League Cup: Four
Community Shield: Four
Uefa Cup Winners' Cup: One
Cristiano Ronaldo has travelled with Real despite a recent thigh injury, and appears set to start.
Of the duel between Aguero and the former Manchester United forward, Pellegrini said: "It will be very good for the fans. They are two of the most important strikers in the world."
Ronaldo has scored 47 times this season, including 16 in just 10 Champions League appearances, but Pellegrini says he knows how to stop the Portuguese goal machine.
"I knew all about him from (my team) playing (against) Manchester United when I was at Villarreal," the Chilean manager said. "We played them four times in the Champions League and each time it was 0-0, so defensively we must have been doing something right."
But it is not as simple as merely stopping Ronaldo, of course.
"Firstly, we must see if he's 100 per cent fit. He's a big player who makes the difference for Real Madrid, so it's very important to stop him," Pellegrini said. "But if you focus on stopping Ronaldo, you also have Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema (who is an injury doubt), you have a lot of other very good players. So it's important to play as a team and to try and defend as a team.
"We won't just try to defend to reach the final. I have always tried to have a team who play good football, play well."
Pellegrini believes City are taking on Real at the right time. "It's very important when you arrive at this stage in knockout games to be in your best moment," he said. "In the Premier League, the last five games, we won four, we draw one. We eliminated Paris Saint-Germain, so we are in a good moment."
The English club, however, will be without their midfield powerhouse Yaya Toure after he failed to recover from a leg injury suffered at the weekend.
Captain Vincent Kompany declared himself 100 per cent fit having recovered from another calf muscle problem.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS