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Man City vs Real Madrid: Five key battles City Must Win Tonight

Manchester City take on Real Madrid this evening in the first-leg of their Champions League semi-final clash.

Real start favourites, but can City overcome the odds?

If so, what are the key battles that they must win?

Here Metro Sport considers five important areas that will help decide the outcome at the Etihad tonight.

1) How will Pellegrini play the game of risk versus reward

Ideally, City would have preferred to have been travelling to the Bernabeu for the first-leg given the success they had in overcoming both Dinamo Kiev and PSG in previous rounds.

This leaves Manuel Pellegrini with the conundrum of quite how much he risks tonight ahead of the second-leg. Even the two-goal lead that Schalke had against Real ultimately proved not enough so getting an advantage is imperative.

The threat Real pose in attack though is clear so it is likely that we see the same formation that started at The Etihad against PSG – particularly with Yaya Toure’s injury – and adopting more of a counter attacking style.

In his pre-match press conference Pellegrini conceded that he does not want his City side to risk conceding a vital away goal, instead wanting them to approach the game in a more balanced manner. You suspect if offered a 0-0 draw beforehand he would snatch your hand off.

2) Can City expose Real’s vulnerability?

Drawing Real Madrid was probably the best tie that Manchester City could have landed in the Champions League semi-finals, although at this stage of the competition it is difficult to find much fault with any of the remaining sides.

Defensively though sides have been able to breach their defence throughout the competition this season without quite managing to land the knock-out blow, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s second-leg hat-trick rescuing them against Schalke in the last eight.

City did not create much against PSG in the previous round, taking their chances when it mattered, but they will hope for more success against Real, who will likely play a far more open style and be less defensively focused.

3) The weight of history

City are at this stage of the competition for the first-time in their history, finally amongst the Champions League elite they have been so keen to join post their takeover.

Real, by contrast, are the epitome of European aristocracy. Dominant through the lifetime of the competition – both in its current and former incarnation – and landing their 10th title in 2014.

This history provides Real not only with a sense of expectation, but one of entitlement and they are perennial participants at this stage. City though, appear to have finally shaken off a naivety or nervousness too often on display; the victory over PSG proving a defining moment in their maturity.

Can they now take that one step further?

4) Real’s forward line

It was no surprise that Zinedine Zidane named a fully-fit squad ahead of the game, with fitness doubts Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema both travelling.

The pair are expected to line-up alongside Gareth Bale in a potent attack that will test City’s defence, no matter that they are far more stable following the return of Vincent Kompany and improved form of Eliaquim Mangala.

City will point to how well they nullified the threat of PSG’s own trio of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Angel di Maria and Edinson Cavani. As well as they played, they were though aided by a decimated PSG midfield who provided little service to them. Real’s midfield should be a different proposition and mean their attack will have far more opportunity to cause havoc.

5) The atmosphere

The atmosphere at The Etihad has long been questioned, with Champions League games particularly flat with City fans having never fully embraced the competition.

The PSG tie was overshadowed by issues over ticket prices and there were doubts as to whether the game would sell out. There are no such problems for this game with the club offering some concessions (even if it was more of a PR-move) over prices, with the game quickly selling out.

If the PSG tie was a defining one for this team in overcoming a hurdle in the Champions League, did it also prove significant for its fans relationship with the competition?

If so, the atmosphere that they generate could provide an extra advantage.