Not many Manchester City Champions League knockout matches go away from Etihad without Pep Guardiola throwing a surprise.
It is true that the games that went wrong attracted the most control, which is why the Catalan is still accused of thinking too much about the defeats of Liverpool and Tottenham in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 quarterfinals.
At Anfield Guardiola dropped Raheem Sterling and put Ilkay Gundogan into a lopsided formation, while at Spurs he bought Fabian Delph from the cold of the left back and left Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne on the bench until the 89th minute.
So when the Blues go to the Bernabeu you cannot rule out another Guardiola joker against the leaders of the La Liga and perhaps on this occasion it will prove to be a successful stratagem.
The answer may be to throw Phil Foden into the heat of the Champions League knockout stages. The teenager had his most productive football season in the first team, with nine starts so far. Basically everyone ended in victory, a significant record given the City’s struggles this season.
Foden didn’t start a Premier League game after a 2-1 win against Everton on New Years Day – when he had a goal chased for offside – and Guardiola resisted the calls to put him back on the field recently.
But the midfielder with the fleet could inject some energy and unpredictability into the Madrid team. The midfield has not been as fluid as in the last few seasons, but if Guardiola persists in the 4-3-3 form, Foden could be the answer, while he also played a role in the left wing also this season, in a success for 3 -0 at Arsenal in the Premier League.
While Kevin De Bruyne has the certainty of playing as the number 8 right side in 4-3-3, none of the options for the left side role in midfield have had particularly impressive seasons.
David Silva is probably the most likely option, but in his last season at Etihad the 34-year-old has rarely reached the heights City knows he is capable of. This was the case also for Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese was excellent in a midfield role last season when De Bruyne was injured, but has yet to recover the form that saw him named the City’s season player.
So maybe now is the time for Guardiola to unleash Foden on the biggest stage of all. The nineteen year old has been considered Silva’s successor next season and Guardiola rarely takes the opportunity to sing his praises.
The Academy graduate hasn’t yet started the away game of a Champions League knockout tie, but he doesn’t look like the type of player who will be surprised by the stage of the iconic Real Madrid stadium.
Foden started their last group game away from Dinamo Zagreb when he was the best player on the pitch, scoring once and offering a midfield masterclass on how to lead a team forward.
It’s the kind of offensive momentum and revolutionary skill that City might need to progress in the Champions League last season. Starting Foden in Madrid would be a risk, but Guardiola is rarely against taking one.