Will Real Madrid reach another final or can Manchester City make more history by reaching their first? Boosted by Ronaldo’s return and Bale’s form, Real Madrid are the favorites to be in Milan at the end of May.
Boosted by Cristiano Ronaldo’s likely return and a nearly perfect home record, Real Madrid welcome Manchester City on Wednesday with a second Champions League final in two years within their grasp.
After three games out with a leg injury, Ronaldo is expected to return to action. Madrid have not released any official information about the injury, prompting widespread rumors about its severity, but he participated fully in training on Monday and looked fit to return to action.
Ronaldo leads the Champions League with 16 goals, one shy of the record he set in the 2013-14 season. With or without him, Real Madrid will be boosted by their home crowd on Wednesday. After last week’s disappointing outing in Manchester, the Spanish giants’ home form suggests this week’s game will quite different. Real Madrid have crushed all-comers to the Bernabeu this season, winning 20 of 23 matches in all competitions. In the Champions League, they’ve won all five home games, outscoring opponents 18-0.
“Home advantage will help,” said Real Madrid defensive midfielder Casemiro, who himself is a doubt with a hip injury.
Speaking at Tuesday’s press conference, head coach Zinedine Zidane said there were other options if Casemiro wasn’t fit in time: “We will try, Casemiro is Casemiro, but we have other players who can do the same work.”
Bale or bust?
Injuries at Real Madrid have thrust Gareth Bale into the limelight, and the Welshman is keen to carry his recent good form into Wednesday’s Champions League showdown.
“The hour of Bale has arrived,” Radio Marca said of the world’s most expensive footballer who reportedly cost Real Madrid 100 million euros ($115 million) when they bought him from Tottenham in 2013. “Wednesday is the day when he can really justify that massive price tag that he carries. What better occasion for him to step forward than a Champions League semifinal?”
Although not the favorites, City have every reason to believe they can upset the odds and advance to their first Champions League final. Even in the face of an intimidating home crowd, the visitors from England know a score draw sends them through.
“If Manchester City made it to the semifinals, it’s because they’re an excellent team,” Ronaldo said. “Knocking out PSG is not an easy task, but they managed to do it. They are a team with very few weaknesses.”
But City showed a few of their defensive flaws in a 4-2 league defeat against Southampton on Sunday, in a game in which head coach Manuel Pellegrini made eight changes – only Joe Hart, Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho kept their spots. Yaya Toure is expected to be fit for Wednesday, but David Silva will miss the return leg.
Whoever advances on Wednesday will play the final against Bayern Munich or Atletico Madrid. If Real Madrid do win, it could be a rematch of the 2014 final, or the semifinal.
jh/pfd (AP, dpa)