Guardiola must find a way to get star man more involved He was well covered by the Real Madrid centre-backs
MANCHESTER CITY’S priority ahead of the Champions League semi-final second leg is to find a way of activating their most lethal weapon, Erling Haaland, against Real Madrid.
City flew home yesterday content with a 1-1 draw from the first leg at the Bernabeu but reflecting on a rare no-show from Haaland.
His father, Alf Inge, made more of an impression on Tuesday, being escorted away from a hospitality box balcony by security staff after winding up Real fans with his celebrations of City’s equaliser.
Antonio Rudiger, right, and David Alaba did a fine containing job on the 51-goal striker, helped by an experienced midfield which closed off the spaces from which City like to feed him.
The result was a quiet night for Haaland, who touched the ball fewer times than any other outfield starter, and a sitdown among City’s brains trust to work out how to improve patterns for Wednesday’s second leg.
City midfielder Rodri said: “We didn’t find him a lot – he was well covered by the centre-backs. The space wasn’t there.
“We have to find more space and change the dynamic of the situations when we break the lines.
It’s not easy because they defend very narrow and don’t allow you to go on the outside. We have to improve that for the next game.” Manager Pep Guardiola hopes Haaland can benefit from City’s attacking prowess at the Etihad, where they have scored 49 goals in their last 14 games – all victories. But personnel changes could also help. Julian Alvarez, one of a bench-full of unused substitutes in the Spanish capital, could be deployed alongside Haaland to give the Madrid defenders more than just the Norwegian to cope with. Or Riyad Mahrez, more of a direct attacking threat than Bernardo Silva, could play down the right.
Guardiola has to balance any offensive-minded tactical or personnel changes with the need to shackle Madrid’s counter-attack.
Rodri said: “Real Madrid are a team that need nothing to score a goal.That’s why sometimes we just kept the ball as we were expecting counter-attacks. It’s the highest level in Europe – they have top players.”
On five of the last six occasions Madrid have played a Champions League knockout round tie on the road after a 1-1 draw at home, they have been eliminated.
But, under Carlo Ancelotti, they are tailor-made for this sort of assignment. Like a coiled snake, they are happy to lie dormant for long periods before rising up and striking with venom on the break.
England holds no fears for them. Real have already won twice there this season in the Champions League, taking down Chelsea in the quarter-final at Stamford Bridge and eviscerating Liverpool at Anfield in the round of 16.
Not many sides do that. City also have a Sunday Premier League appointment at Everton to plan for before the second leg.
Real play Getafe in La Liga on Saturday, when manager Ancelotti may well take the opportunity to rest his first-choice side with the title undoubtedly on its way to Barcelona.
Much as Guardiola might like to mothball his key players ahead of the second leg, the tight race with Arsenal means he has little wriggle room.
No rest for the wicked, not with a treble on the line.