Fernando admits Manchester City are feeling the weight of history as they prepare for the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid.
City beat Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals to move into the last four of Europe’s premier competition for the first time, and will host the team who has reached this stage more than any other side (27) in the first leg on Tuesday.
Leicester City need just one more point to ensure that Manuel Pellegrini’s side cannot win the Premier League, leaving the Champions League as the last trophy the Chilean can bring to the Etihad Stadium before he departs to make way for Pep Guardiola in July.
Fernando concedes Tuesday’s clash at the Etihad Stadium is a momentous occasion for the club, but the midfielder says his team-mates are relishing – rather than fearing – the prospect of facing Madrid.
“We know it’s a very important game, not only for the players but for the fans,” the Brazilian, who is expected to recover from a minor knee problem, told City’s TV channel. “It’s one of the most important games in the history of this club.
“We are very excited and looking forward to the game. Hopefully we’ll then do well in Madrid.”
Madrid likewise head into the semi-final knowing that the Champions League could be their last hope of salvaging success from another mixed campaign.
Zinedine Zidane’s side came from 2-0 down to beat neighbours Rayo Vallecano on Saturday to stay within a point of the top of La Liga, but they still rely on Barcelona and Atletico Madrid slipping up to claim the title.
Madrid fought from a two-goal deficit to beat Wolfsburg in the quarter-finals thanks to a second-leg hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo, but the Portugal star remains a doubt for the clash with City due to a thigh complaint which kept him out of the Rayo win.
Gareth Bale scored twice to secure the points in his absence, but Marcelo insists the collective strength of the team will be enough to compensate should Ronaldo be sidelined again.
“The team is Lucas Vazquez, Luka Modric, Isco, Pepe… it’s all of us, not just Cristiano or Bale,” he said. “Obviously they are great players and in one-on-one situations they are better and create more danger.
“Today [Saturday], the whole team were strong and fought until the end. Now we have to be united.”
Madrid, who are unbeaten in eight games against English opposition in the Champions League, have slight concerns over Karim Benzema (knee) as well as Ronaldo, though Dani Carvajal (bruised knee) will hope to be fit.
Yaya Toure picked up a thigh injury in the 4-0 win over Stoke City and will face a fitness test for City, but Vincent Kompany and Kevin De Bruyne should both return after being rested for Saturday’s game. Raheem Sterling should also be available.
Madrid drew 1-1 with City on their only previous competitive visit to the Etihad back in the group stages of the 2012-13 season.
Key Opta Stats:
– Manchester City have kept a clean sheet in each of their last two Champions League games at the Etihad (v Dynamo Kiev and PSG). They had only kept one clean sheet in their previous 17 home games in the competition.
– City are the only team left in the semi-finals who have averaged under 50 per cent possession in the Champions League this season (48.6 per cent).
– Real Madrid have kept more clean sheets than any other team in this season’s Champions League (eight in 10 games). They have also won more games than any other team in this campaign (8).
– Cristiano Ronaldo has scored/assisted 77 per cent of Real Madrid’s goals in this season’s competition (20 out of 26). He is only a goal away from tying the record for most goals in a Champions League campaign, a record he currently holds (17 in 2013-14).
– Sergio Aguero has failed to score in his last three Champions League games, his longest drought in the competition since his run of five games without a goal between November 2011 and October 2012. He has not had a shot on target for 342 minutes.
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