MANCHESTER CITY could reach their second successive Champions League final tonight – but to do so they must stop Real Madrid star Karim Benzema.
The striker, 34, has arguably been the player of the tournament so far after inspiring his side to wins over Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.
Benzema scored a hat-trick in both of those ties and his link-up with Vinicius Jr. is Real's most dangerous threat.
It will be a big night for Kyle Walker up against the Brazilian, should he pass fit, and possibly Phil Foden, if he gets picked on the right instead of Riyad Mahrez.
Pep Guardiola has experimented with his front three all season long with Gabriel Jesus a likely starter after hitting form with four goals against Watford on Saturday.
Winning the midfield battle and limiting the influence of Luka Modric will also be key for The Citizens, who will be hoping for another big display from talisman Kevin De Bruyne.
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Here, SunSport looks at five key battles where this Champions League semi-final will be won and lost.
Stopping Karim Benzema
Keeping the Frenchman subdued has been a difficult task for most teams this season but should City manage it they will likely book their place in Paris for the final.
Ruben Dias has recovered from a knock at the perfect time and will be tasked with keeping Benzema quiet after playing in City's last two games.
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He will have to be up for a physical battle with Benzema while keeping a close eye on his movement – there is a reason why the Frenchman has scored 39 goals this season.
Aymeric Laporte will also need to be at his best with Benzema aiming to mark his 600th Los Blancos appearance with a goal.
Luka Modric vs Kevin De Bruyne
Both midfielders hold the key for their sides and this one will be a battle of influence.
City should boss possession but will be looking to De Bruyne to provide a creative spark.
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He showed a finishing touch in the quarter-finals to help his team past Atletico Madrid and has a knack of producing in big games.
But so does Modric, and the Croatian has done it over and over again on the big stage.
If he starts pulling the strings in midfield again Real could score out of nothing – just as they did against Chelsea when Modric produced a sublime cross for Rodrigo to score.
Keeping Vinicus Jr. quiet
The tricky Brazilian has emerged as a star of this Real team with 17 goals and 18 assists this season, and his partnership with Benzema has been key.
Never was that more clear when the pair linked up for Real's extra-time winner in the previous round against Chelsea, and Guardiola will be hoping Walker passes fit to play.
The Citizens manager revealed both Walker and John Stones are doubts but could start – and Guardiola may have no choice but to play one of them due to Joao Cancelo's suspension.
Walker has proven himself against the likes of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Joao Felix in Europe before and his pace could be key to stopping Vinicius Jr.
Who will start in City's attack?
Guardiola's biggest dilemma is who to pick in his front three – particularly in the central role.
City's lack of a traditional number nine is an issue that has persisted all season and proved a problem against Atletico as the English champions struggled to break down their defence.
Phil Foden was the difference in the first leg of that tie after coming on as a substitute but was a little quiet after starting at the Wanda Metropolitano.
But he was a bigger threat than Raheem Sterling, though the England star has often proved so effective in big games for club and country.
Top scorer Riyad Mahrez is another option, as is Jesus, who has scored in big games against Liverpool, PSG, Chelsea and Arsenal this season.
Guardiola has a history of mixing things up for big Champions League games, infamously playing without a recognised defensive midfielder in last season's final defeat.
And with Cancelo out and Walker possibly unavailable there is a risk the Spaniard could decide to switch to a different formation – which he did when City were knocked out by Lyon in 2020.
Carlo Ancelotti, by contrast, is unlikely to deviate from his tried-and-tested tactics, though will be forced into changes with Casemiro unavailable and David Alaba a doubt.
But the Italian will trust his team and the know-how of serial Champions League winners such as Modric, Benzema and Toni Kroos could be the difference in this mouth-watering tie.
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