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Manuel Pellegrini ready to make history

By Mark Ogden

Manuel Pellegrini has backed his Manchester City players to cope with the 'high pressure' of facing Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu after admitting his men are on the brink of history in their Champions League semi-final.

Having held ten-time European champions Real to a goalless draw at the Etihad Stadium in last Tuesday's first-leg, City will progress to the final if they win, or secure a scoring draw, against Zinedine Zidane's team.

But with Real set to welcome Cristiano Ronaldo back from injury for the return leg, the Spanish club go into the game as favourites after scoring 18 goals without reply in their five Champions League home games so far this season.

Pellegrini, however, is confident that his players - only David Silva and Pablo Zabaleta are unavailable - possess the mental strength to deal with their challenge in one of football's most iconic, and intimidating, arenas.

"The pressure is high in the Bernabeu, so it is important that we are focused," Pellegrini said. "But we have the personality, mentality and the football to be able to deal with that.

"This team, not just this season but all three, we have done very well away from home. We beat Roma in Rome, Bayern Munich away and had a very good draw in Paris in the last round (against PSG).

"This is a big game for the club and I know how lucky we are because it's not every season that you play in the semi -final of the Champions League.

"A special moment for the players and club, but the moment will only be special if we go through. We're ready for it and we're looking forward to making history."

Zidane had claimed prior to City's arrival in Madrid that a failure to reach the final would be a 'disaster' for the club. But Pellegrini insisted that both sides face the same expectations and challenges.

"Real Madrid's history and City's history is very different," Pellegrini said. "For me it would be a failure not to get to the final if the team didn't produce a performance they could have.

"If Madrid overwhelm us we will congratulate them. I hope it will be us going through.

"Our motivation is to try to reach a final that we haven't reached before, playing against a great team like Real Madrid in a beautiful stadium.

"That motivates me more than who is the best team and reaches the final. We trust ourselves and hope we can prove it."

With Ronaldo back for Real, City go into the game hoping for a return to form for Sergio Aguero, who has failed to hit the target in his last four outings in the competition. But Pellegrini insists he has no doubts over the quality of Aguero.

"I always say that the big games are decided by the best technical players," Pellegrini said. "I hope we will see Sergio put in a good performance.

"But Cristiano? He will always be a different player. He has scored a lot of goals in his six years here, but I don't think that Real Madrid are just Cristiano.

"If he doesn't play they have other options. We must defend and attack as a team, not just against Cristiano but against Real Madrid."

Belfast Telegraph


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