Injury-hit Madrid tasked with breaking down Atletico wall
If beating Atletico Madrid wasn’t hard enough for Real Madrid, the defending champions must now find a way to better their crosstown rivals in the Champions League without four of their most important players.
A depleted Madrid host Atletico on Wednesday in the second leg of the quarterfinal. Their 0-0 draw last week means the fitter and more physical Atletico can advance with either a win or a draw with goals. Madrid has yet to beat Atletico in seven matches this season in four competitions and now faces overcoming a spat of injuries that has sidelined Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric. Marcelo is suspended.
Atletico striker Fernando Torres is still wary of a Madrid side featuring Cristiano Ronaldo. “They have more than enough talented players. We will try to take advantage of (their injuries), but it won’t make much of a difference. I am facing it like it’s the most important game of the season,” Torres said.
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti was already busy figuring out a way to finally beat Atletico this season. But now that three of his players have been ruled unfit over a run of three days, he has the additional problem of choosing his starting 11. Modric was diagnosed with a sprain to a right-knee ligament on Sunday. The next day doctors said Bale had hurt his left calf, and that was followed by Benzema showing a right-knee sprain of his own on Tuesday. Ancelotti plans to use Fabio Coentrao in place of Marcelo. He could opt to deploy two playmakers in Francisco “Isco” Alarcon and James Rodriguez in place of Bale, leaving Ronaldo up front with either the little-used Javier Hernandez or Jese Rodriguez.
DOWN TO THIS
Atletico is one strong performance away from avenging last season’s painful 4-1 extra time loss to Madrid in the Champions League final. And while Madrid can still vie for the Spanish league title, trailing Barcelona by two points with six matches to go, Atletico’s hopes to win a major trophy for a fourth consecutive season under coach Diego Simeone hinge on advancing to the semifinal. Torres said. Atletico has not lost in its last three visits to the Bernabeu.
RONALDO & RODRIGUEZ
Despite its injuries, Madrid will still have the Ballon d’Or winner to count on. Ronaldo reached the 50-goal mark for the fifth consecutive season in Madrid’s 3-1 win over Malaga, which also saw Rodriguez match his best scoring tally of his career with his 14th goal of the campaign.
Rodriguez immediately became a first-choice player for Ancelotti after joining the club, and he has shown no rust since returning recently from injury.
Atletico is known for excelling at set pieces, but Antoine Griezmann is now leading its attack with his speed and ability to elude defenders in the area. The France forward leads the team with 23 goals and has scored six times in his last five appearances.
“We clearly have to keep en eye on him. He is very dangerous and is providing a consistent scoring punch,” Ancelotti said. Striker Mario Mandzukic is Atletico’s other main threat with 20 goals. Simeone’s squad is complete except for suspended midfielder Mario Suarez.
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