Man City vs. Real Madrid could hinge on the fitness of one player. Just ask Vinicius Jr.

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Pep Guardiola kept Real Madrid guessing ahead of Wednesday's Champions League quarterfinals second leg.

Despite Manchester City's fabulously rich array of attacking talent, it is perhaps the physical fitness of Kyle Walker that will be of most interest to Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti — and to Vinicius Júnior.

Walker's expert handling of Madrid's winger in last year's semifinals was a key factor in City's 4-0 rout in the second leg on its way to a treble of trophies. And his absence was felt last week in a 3-3 draw at the Bernabeu when the Spanish giants mounted repeated attacks down the right of City's defense.

Walker is back in contention after a hamstring injury, and while Guardiola would not say whether he was ready to start against Madrid, Bernardo Silva outlined his importance to the defending European champion.

“We know Kyle Walker is a player that has controlled some of the best players in the world. He always does phenomenal work,” the City playmaker said Tuesday. “In the last few years he played against Vinicius Júnior, (Kylian) Mbappe, Neymar and knows how to defend against them.”

Even at the age of 33, Walker's speed, strength and endurance still make him one of the world's most effective defenders.

He showcased that against Vinicius last year after the Brazil winger had been a consistent threat in the first leg in Spain.

It was a different story at Etihad Stadium, with Walker largely nullifying him as City produced a dominant win to advance to the final.

Vinicius was at his most dangerous again last week and Madrid made the most of it with three goals in a game filled with chances for both teams.

He is likely to be affected more than most by Walker's potential return to City's starting line up.

“I don’t know from the beginning or from the bench, but he will be with us tomorrow,” Guardiola said of Walker, describing his return as “incredibly good news.”

“You know the physicality is massively important and in football it is how you challenge your opponent,” Guardiola said.

Madrid is aiming for a record-extending 15th Champions League title, while City would become the first English club to win the trophy back-to-back in the modern era.

City is also competing to become the first team to win the Premier League four years in a row and the first in Europe to complete successive trebles.

Bernardo said the chance to be considered the greatest team of all time was a motivation for City.

“We know how well this team has done and we want to create that legacy and to do another Premier League (title), to do six in seven years and four in a row and we want to win the Champions League to do two in a row that only Madrid did three in a row,” he said. “If we win two trebles in a row that would be a legacy.”


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James Robson, The Associated Press