Pep Guardiola has plenty of issues to ponder ahead of the trip to Real Madrid

Man City could have a secret weapon to unleash in Champions League knockout stages

Manchester City have struggled at times this season but with the Champions League now their top priority Pep Guardiola might have a surprise up his sleeve.


Not many of Manchester City's Champions League knockout fixtures away from the Etihad pass by without Pep Guardiola throwing in a surprise.

Admittedly it is the games that have gone wrong that attract the most scrutiny, which is why the Catalan is still accused of over-thinking the defeats at Liverpool and Tottenham in the quarter-final of 2017/18 and 2018/19.

At Anfield Guardiola dropped Raheem Sterling and included Ilkay Gundogan in a lopsided formation, while at Spurs he bought Fabian Delph in from the cold at left-back and left Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne on the bench until the 89th minute.

So when the Blues head to the Bernabeu you couldn't rule out another Guardiola wildcard against the La Liga leaders and perhaps on this occasion it will prove to be a successful ploy.

The answer could be throwing Phil Foden into the heat of battle in the Champions League knockout stages. The teenager has had his most productive season yet of first-team football, with nine starts so far. Crucially all of them have ended up in victory, a significant record given City's struggles this season.

Foden hasn't started a Premier League game since the 2-1 victory against Everton on New Year's Day - when he had a goal chalked off for offside - and Guardiola has resisted calls to throw him into the side recently.

But the fleet-footed midfielder could inject some energy and unpredictability into City's side in Madrid. The midfield hasn't been quite as fluent as recent seasons, but if Guardiola persists with the 4-3-3 shape then Foden might be the answer, while he has also featured in a role on the left wing as well this season, in a 3-0 success at Arsenal in the Premier League.

While Kevin De Bruyne is a certainty to play as the right-sided No. 8 in a 4-3-3, none of the options for the left-sided role in midfield have had particularly impressive seasons.

David Silva is probably the most likely option, but in his final season at the Etihad the 34-year-old has rarely hit the heights that City know he is capable of. That's been the case for Bernardo Silva as well. The Portuguese was excellent in a midfield role last season, when De Bruyne was out injured, but he's yet to recapture the form that saw him named City's player of the season.

So maybe now is the time for Guardiola to unleash Foden on the biggest stage of all. The 19-year-old has been earmarked as Silva's successor next season and Guardiola rarely passes up an opportunity to sing his praises.

The academy graduate is yet to start the away leg of a Champions League knockout tie but he doesn't look the kind of player to be overawed by the stage of Real Madrid's iconic stadium.

Foden did start the last group game, away at Dinamo Zagreb, when he was the best player on the pitch, scoring once and delivering a midfield masterclass in how to drive a team forward.

It is that kind of attacking impetus and game-changing ability that City might need if they are to progress in the Champions League last season. Starting Foden in Madrid would be a risk, but Guardiola is rarely averse to taking one of those.