Madrid begin their bid to lift their elusive tenth Champions League trophy before the roaring Santiago Bernabeu by visiting group rivals Zurich on Tuesday…
Zurich find themselves in this situation after having progressed through the Champions League play-off stage, defeating Latvian side Ventspils by a 3-0 scoreline in the first leg before securing the tie with two more goals in the second match, finishing with a comfortable 5-1 aggregate victory.
But these are the big boys now, and if Bernard Challandes' side is to provide any challenge to the nine-time European champions, they must be tactically sound and hope to surprise the visitors on the counterattack. If not, even declaring neutrality will not save the Swiss from an historic Real Madrid squad.
Longing for La Decima
Winning a tenth Champions League trophy has become something of an obsession in the Spanish capital, and year after year of being eliminated in the knockout phase of the competition has left the club on the outside looking in much too often in recent campaigns.
But this season’s Real Madrid squad is a bit different from those of the past. Two of the world’s best players, consecutive winners of FIFA World Players of the Year, have been brought to the squad to make a strong push to restore the club to European supremacy. Madrid president Florentino Perez brought Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, along with Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso, Esteban Granero, Raul Albiol and Alvaro Arbeloa for the very purpose of challenging for Europe’s most coveted trophy. Should Madrid again fall short in the Round of 16, there could very well be riots in Cibeles.
Thus far, the ‘Floren Team’ has, as promised, dazzled with their dynamic play and superb technique. Remaining true to the team’s historic philosophy, Los Blancos are playing attacking, entertaining football, and the fans are very happy with the performances on the pitch.
On Saturday, Madrid faced a very competitive Espanyol side as the club's new stadium was opened, and despite a very hostile crowd, Los Blancos unceremoniously dispatched Los Pericos by a 3-0 scoreline. On Tuesday, Los Merengues will be intent on continuing their stellar form, aiming to make clockwork out of dispatching the Swiss.
09/08/2009 League FC Basel 1893-Zurich 1-1
15/08/2009 League FC Sion-Zurich 3-3
22/08/2009 League Zurich-FC Luzern 4-0
29/08/2009 League FC Aarau-Zurich 1-1
12/09/2009 League Zurich-Grasshopper-Club 4-3
15/08/2009 Preseason Real Sociedad-Real Madrid 0-2
19/08/2009 Preseason Borussia Dortmund-Real Madrid 0-5 25/08/2009 Preseason Real Madrid-Rosenborg 4-0
29/08/2009 Liga Real Madrid - Deportivo 3-2
12/09/2009 Liga Espanyol - Real Madrid 0-3
Zurich manager Bernard Challandes will likely field the same starting XI that bested cross-town rivals Grasshopper-Club Zurich by a 4-3 scoreline at the weekend. Zurich could prove to be a danger for the Spanish giants as the Swiss Super League has been underway since July, and the Swiss players could be in much better form. Nonetheless, Challandes will need to make some defensive adjustments in preparation for Madrid’s high-pressure attack. Although Zurich have scored 20 goals in nine league matches, the porous defence has also given up 15.
Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Leoni; Stahel, Tihinen, Rochat, Koch; Aegerter, Okonkwo; Vonlanthen, Margairaz, Alphonse; Hassli.
Madrid manager Manuel Pellegrini has left Ezequiel Garay and Mahamadou Diarra out of the squad while Rafael van der Vaart continues to be frozen out by the Chilean coach and will remain behind in Madrid. Sergio Ramos is not yet fit for match play after spending two and a half months recovering from tendonitis.
Despite a slight ankle sprain suffered in the weekend match against Espanyol, Raul Albiol has been included in the squad, although the central defence will likely be comprised of Metzelder and Pepe, who still has four matches to serve out in La Liga for a ten-match suspension that has carried over from last season.
Fernando Gago also returns to the squad while Esteban Granero’s mature performance against Espanyol this past weekend may have earned him a starting spot in line up ahead of Karim Benzema, who has struggled to find his goalscoring form.
After being rested at the weekend, Lassana Diarra, Cristiano Ronaldo and Raul are set to start. 'CR9' should play in a more advanced position alongside the captain.
Probable Starting XI (4-2-2-2): Casillas; Arbeloa, Pepe, Metzelder, Marcelo; Xabi Alonso, Lass; Kaka, Granero; Ronaldo, Raul.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Zurich captain Hannu Tihinen, an imposing figure in defence, will have his hands full trying to coordinate his rearguard in the hope of containing the Madrid assault. Up front,Johan Vonlanthen is the danger man and will be looking to net another goal after scoring in both the first and second leg of the Champions League play-off matches against Ventspils. The Swiss striker already has experience of playing against Pepe, matching up against the centre-back when Switzerland shocked Portugal 2-0 in last summer’s Euro 2008 competition.
With so many superstars in the squad one should ideally keep his eye on all of Madrid’s players, but if the past few matches are any indication, Kaka is the real conductor of the orchestra. The Brazilian is beginning to show signs of the unstoppable player he was two seasons ago, and has been dominant in his performances for Los Blancos. Esteban Granero has also developed a tantalising understanding with the Brazilian and could be enjoyable to watch. Finally, Cristiano Ronaldo will be hoping to have a breakout match; the Portuguese has scored in both of his official appearances for Madrid, although neither of his goals have yet come from a free kick. CR9 will be looking to rectify that on Tuesday.
With Madrid playing as they are, and with Los Blancos’ unrivalled history in the Champions League, things do not look good for Zurich. Should the Swiss decide to sit back and try to absorb the Merengue charge, they could find themselves in for a very long night. Instead, Zurich should insist upon playing their style of football and try to net an early goal through Vonlanthen or Hassli. Without such a boost of confidence, it seems unlikely that the home side will be able to hold out and Madrid’s superior quality will shine through.
Zurich 0-3 Real Madrid