For the second straight season, Manchester City face elimination from the group stage of the Champions League unless players who have failed to live up to their price tags can find a way to beat Real Madrid.
The underperforming English champions are last in Group D with only two points from four matches after opening the campaign with a 3-2 loss at Madrid.
“It is very difficult, because probably we did some mistakes in the first game,” City manager Roberto Mancini said on Tuesday.
Mancini will make a late decision on whether striker Mario Balotelli’s back has recovered in time for him to face Madrid.
“Yesterday he trained with the physio and tomorrow and today he will train with the team and we will see if he can play,” Mancini said.
The pressure on Mancini has been lifted slightly by City rising to the top of the Premier League on Saturday for the first time in their title defence.
But it’s in Europe where the top teams are judged, and for some City players the last two Group D matches could now only be a matter of pride.
“Unlikely as it is that we will go through, we want to win our remaining two games and give ourselves at least half a chance,” City winger James Milner said.
“And if that’s not good enough, at least we can finish with our heads held high.”
On the attack
Madrid are second in Group D, one point behind Borussia Dortmund and three ahead of Ajax.
But Madrid have stumbled in their last two matches, losing at Dortmund and then being held by the German champions at home two week ago.
“We have a good chance of winning in Manchester if we impose our attacking strength,” Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira said.
“The quality of this team is incredibly high and… we definitely have to concentrate on trying to play our own way there, not letting ourselves to be influenced by the opponent’s style”
Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira
“The quality of this team is incredibly high and… we definitely have to concentrate on trying to play our own way there, not letting ourselves to be influenced by the opponent’s style.”
Madrid’s passage to the knockout phase would be guaranteed with a game spare with a win in Manchester, where Cristiano Ronaldo will be playing for the first time since leaving United in 2009.
“Tomorrow he should have more attention on him, not only the other players… because he’s a player that can change the game alone,” Mancini said.
Winger Denis Cheryshev has been called into the Madrid squad, with midfielder Michael Essien and forward Alvaro Morata sidelined.
Dortmund are the only unbeaten team in Group D and to advance only need a draw at Ajax, who have never been beaten at home by German opposition.
“I have a lot of respect for Ajax,” Dortmund defender Neven Subotic said.
“They don’t allow themselves to be shaken up.”