UCL Preview: Can Mourinho and Madrid outdo Lyon?
As Santiago Bernabeu gets ready to play host to a crucial round of 16 clash in the UEFA Champions League, there is a unanimous question on people’s minds, “Can Jose Mourinho stop the rot?”. Make no mistake, we are talking about a team, whose name was once synonymous with this competition, THE most successful team in the history of the Champions League, a team boasting of World Cup winners, Champions League winners and even a couple of FIFA World of Player of the Year recipients, we are talking about REAL MADRID.
But such has been the vicissitudes of fortune for them that they got eliminated at this stage of the competition five times in a row. So they got a Portuguese by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo, the best player in the world. Lyon made sure five became six and in desperation, Real turned to another Portuguese, Jose Mourinho. Touted as the best coach in the world, Mourinho faces his acid test on Wednesday night. In his typical bullish manner he announced Real Madrid “are not afraid of recent history”. Going by the current form, Real look the better bet. They have an away goal from the first leg and more importantly, they have won all of their 21 matches at home this term, keeping an enviable 14 clean sheets.
Ronaldo, who has busted the net 40 times in 44 appearances for club and country this season looks set to return on Wednesday after recovering from a bicep injury. Samir Khedira and Kaka aren’t expected to feature but Higuain was back in training and is in line for a spot on the bench. Lyon on the other hand will be missing the services of Bastos who is both suspended and injured but would welcome back Lisandro who was the wrecker-in-chief in the corresponding tie last year.
Players to look out for:
You cannot simply ignore Cristiano Ronaldo. Such is the form he is in and needless to say if he turns it on for Real, they could romp home. Karim Benzema, the former Lyon striker who gave Real the lead in the first leg has also found his scoring boots, adding a couple against Hercules last weekend. But, Real’s unsung hero might just be Mesut Ozil, described by his manager as “a fantastic piece of business” by the club. The cliché with Lyon is they always let their top players go and hence never quite up for it to compete for the big prize. But they always have it in them to cause a flutter, their victims last season being Real themselves. They have talent in the form of Gourcuff, lethal finishing in Lisandro and dogged determination in Delgado, but you have to believe that if they are to pull off a sensational victory over Real, their French international goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris will have to be at his best.
Finally, it’s Mourinho’s 50th match
You don’t really think he will break a habit of not losing at home in his 50th match in-charge of Real, do you? But then stranger things have happened in the past. It’s worth remembering much of Mourinho’s success in Europe has come because he could always gets his team to keep their discipline and defend with utmost concentration. With all their attacking flair and flamboyance, the question that remains to be answered is , “Are Real Madrid disciplined enough to be a ‘Mourinho’ side”? The match against Lyon could provide the answer.