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Real Madrid to Face Spurs!

The draw results are in, and los Merengues will play Tottenham Hotspur for a spot in the Champions League semifinals.  Real will play the first leg in the Bernabéu on 5 April before travelling to White Hart Lane a week later on 12 April.  The winner will play either Barcelona or Shakhtar in the semifinals, setting up the possibility of a mouthwatering two-legged Clásico next month, which would mean Madrid and Barcelona playing each other an astonishing four times in as many weeks: the potentially crucial Liga tie at the Bernabéu, the Copa del Rey final and the Champions league semifinal.

In my article before the draw, I ranked Tottenham 5th of out 7 in terms of our preferences for the quarterfinals, although I was perhaps being generous.  Certainly Real are heavily favoured by pundits and bookmakers alike to make short work of Spurs, whose rise to the upper echelons of European football has been commendable but are not thought to have the capability to beat a frankly unarguably superior Madrid side.  Madrid's roster is better in every position across the pitch, including on the dugout, where Mourinho has beaten Harry Redknapp all five times he has played his teams.  Mourinho has only lost to Spurs once, beating them seven times.

I do think Spurs are dangerous, but it's important to realize that their form in Europe has been somewhat illusory and overhyped due to the fact that the team have not traditionally been top European competitors.  In the group stages, Tottenham conceded four goals in just 35 minutes in the first half of the match against Inter at the San Siro.  Spurs did manage to come back to within one in the second half against an Inter defense in shambles with a superb hat trick from Gareth Bale, and won their home game against the Italians 3-1, but frankly Inter are a shadow of the side they were under Mourinho, particularly in defense.  In the absence of Samuel, and with the shocking drop in form of Maicon and Julio Cesar this season, they constantly look vulnerable at the back.  In their game against an equally suspect Bayern team, Inter made a series of horrendous defensive errors and were extremely lucky to pull through.

Similarly, the win against Milan is hardly as impressive as it was cracked up to be.  Milan battered Spurs throughout the two legs and were extremely unlucky to lose.  This is a fairly dire Milan team we are discussing here, it must be noted, certainly the worst this decade if not one of the worst ever, filled with aging players who should have been unable to cope with the pace of Spurs.  Real Madrid generally dominated Milan in the two games we played against them in the group stages.

It is also the case that part of the success of Tottenham against the likes of Inter was that they were an unknown quantity.  No one had any idea of the explosive pace of Bale and teams failed to set themselves up properly to deal with it.  Mourinho knows the current Tottenham side very well now, and he likely won't be making the same mistakes.  With Ramos playing a more disciplined, defensive role under Mourinho, the Spaniard will be assigned to mark Bale, cutting off the spaces to run into and preventing him from sprinting with the ball at his feet.

In the end, I think it would be a shock if Real failed to progress to the semis.  The key will be to put the tie to bed in the Bernabéu, where a good result would put immense pressure on Spurs going into the game at White Hart Lane.  Redknapp's men would be forced to push forward for a goal, playing into the hands of Mourinho.  Any goals generated on Madrid's legendary counterattacks would add to our lead as well as counting for the away goals rule.  Should Madrid fail to score at home or go to White Hart Lane with a score draw, things will be significantly less comfortable.  However, Madrid have a 100% record at home in all competitions this season, are one of only two unbeaten sides in the Champions League, and have scored 19 and conceded just 3 goals in the entire competition thus far (Spurs have scored 19 and conceded 11).

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