The UEFA Champions League draw is always a very hyped occasion. It is a bunch of men who’ve played the game scrambling about a set of toy-like balls to add extra drama to a wonderful competition. Having said that, it does serve its purpose. It certainly did so on Monday, when Manchester City were drawn against Real Madrid.
This was one of the fixtures that stood out- even though Paris Saint-Germain against Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool against Atletico Madrid are very good ties too. There seems to be an aura about this fixture that others can’t match. There are some very good subplots in there too.
Pep Guardiola managing against Real Madrid is one, but the Los Blancos will have a stiff task on their hands. It is in this stage that they had left the competition last season, when Ajax knocked them out. And the clash against the Citizens could well be a bigger challenge. The key to winning that challenge will be how they control Kevin de Bruyne.
The Belgian is undoubtedly one of the best playmakers in world football. His recent performance against Arsenal was key to demonstrating his ability, as De Bruyne got two goals and one assist. In the Premier League, De Bruyne has six goals and ten assists. That is a big number, but it is normal for De Bruyne.
After the recent win over the Gunners, Jamie Carragher was gushing about De Bruyne. On Sky Sports (via ManCity), he said:
“He was the difference, certainly early on. You’re talking about him being one of the best in the business. He’s the best in the world, in terms of that position, as an offensive midfield player.
“You think of all the great foreign players, Bergkamp, Zola, Cantona. We’re going to speak about Silva like that and we’re going to speak about De Bruyne whenever he leaves Man City like that.”
“He’s a cut above anyone in that position in the Premier League and the world.”
Since joining City, De Bruyne has been involved in 124 goals in just 195 games. His vision and creative dexterity is probably unmatched in the game. Last season was a one full of injury issues, but De Bruyne was still involved in 17 goals in 32 appearances in all competitions.
One of his most important moves on the pitch is when he glides in the space between the full-back and the centre-back. He occupies half-spaces and picks them out perfectly. From there on, he picks out passes for other attacking players.
That is one thing that opposition teams block out. Against Liverpool, Fabinho did that job very well. And that kept City out, helping Liverpool win 3-1. As a result of that, De Bruyne could complete only 32 of his passes. He was dribbled past five times. On average, De Bruyne plays 52 passes per game.
It is very unnatural for De Bruyne to come up with a performance like that. But the job Fabinho did has given other sides the way to beat City. Guardiola’s men aren’t as intense off the ball this season as they were before.
The pressing after losing the ball hasn’t been as harried. That allows teams to play through them.
While Real would know that once they sit down and look at City. But they would need to follow Liverpool’s plan of keeping De Bruyne quiet too. And they have the perfect man to do just that. Casemiro- Fabinho’s Brazil teammate.
He is one of the best tacklers in world football today. Or at least in the La Liga. Casemiro has won 3.7 tackles per game this season– more than anyone else in Spain. He has also made 2.3 interceptions per game. That too is the highest in the league.
Real have to make use of Casemiro’s abilities to track De Bruyne and keep him tied. If he gets into those half-spaces and runs in-behind through those, Real will have a near-impossible job of stopping his passes. Once they come in, no one survives.