Manchester City stand in Real Madrid’s way as Los Blancos attempt to reach the final of the Champions League for the second time in three seasons.
The two clubs meet at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday for the first leg of their semi-final clash, with City proving in their quarter-final meeting against Paris Saint-Germain that they are capable of thwarting the most lethal of attacks in Europe.
But it’s at the other end of the pitch where the tie could be decided and City need Sergio Aguero to win his battle against Madrid’s defence if they are to have any hope of reaching the final.
The Argentinian will likely come up against Sergio Ramos and Pepe but Madrid’s third-choice centre-back has opened up about City’s biggest threat.
Raphael Varane has made 31 appearances this season but it’s unlikely he will be entrusted in such an important game by Zinedine Zidane.
“He’s a great great player,” Varane admitted, per Sport. “We have to pay extra attention. He’s decisive and fundamental for Man City.
“We have to keep a close eye on him. We know his qualities. I think we must not leave him any space and be on our guard to stop him.”
Manuel Pellegrini has shored up his team’s defence in recent weeks. This was evidenced in the 1-0 win over PSG in the quarter-final second leg, in which Zlatan Ibrahimovic and co. were not given a sniff at goal by Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala.
And the return of Vincent Kompany, who today admitted he is 100 per cent fit after recovering from a calf problem, will further tighten City’s defence.
What was once a glaring weakness has reached an adequate level. By no means is City’s defence on par with Atletico Madrid’s, for example, but Varane has noticed the improvement.
“[Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne] are the great talents of their team in attack but they have many more,” the Frenchman continued.
“They have very solid players at the back. They are very athletic. They have many qualities. We must be really serious, really focused and defend as a team, all together and be compact.
“And up front we must be at our best against them. We must give our maximum and we can win big trophies. It’s an exciting end to the season.”
City have never reached this far in Europe’s elite tournament, something that Varane believes Pellegrini will use as extra motivation.
“They will give it their all, they are very motivated,” the 23-year-old added. “It’s the first time ever they’ve reached the semi-final so they will give their maximum. We know it will be a very difficult match against a team of great quality.”