Real Madrid head into the second leg of their Champions League quarterfinal tie against APOEL with a comfortable, commanding 3-0 lead on aggregate and will seek to secure their passage into the semis as smoothly as possible when they take the pitch at the Bernabeu tomorrow evening. los Blancos have three away goals stashed in their back pocket courtesy of their trip to Nicosia so it will take a minor miracle for the Cypriot minnows to continue their wondrous, improbable Champions League run. But as we saw in the first leg--APOEL defend tenaciously and will certainly play hard for honor and pride on the world stage tomorrow night. Let's talk lineups after the jump.
Real Madrid.com is reporting that Callejon and Pepe are available for selection and that Sami Khedira, Lass Diarra and Ricardo Carvalho will all be unavailable due to injury. Khedira's absence should open the door for Nuri Sahin to get another start after his fine performance against APOEL in Cyprus. I personally would also like to see Xabi Alonso rested to some degree, whether it's for one half or the entire match. Esteban Granero and Sahin have much fresher legs than Xabi at this stage of the season and should be able to perform at a high-enough level in midfield to close this tie out properly.
I expect Kaka to get a start since he hasn't seen significant minutes over the past two matches. Kaka definitely deserves a chance to play and keep his momentum, confidence and solid recent form going in the right direction. The question is which member of the four-headed Ronaldo, Ozil, Benzema, Higuain monster will make way. It has to be such an incredible luxury for Jose Mourinho to look at these names and be able to rest players when needed and know that there will essentially be no significant drop-off in quality no matter who he ultimately selects.
I'm curious to see how the technical staff handles Angel Di Maria tomorrow. He obviously needs minutes to get back to match fitness, but will they proceed with caution to ensure there are no setbacks in a match they can certainly win (or even draw for that matter) without him. I do expect him to get least some minutes ahead of the Valencia match. Finding the right balance will be key.
I wrote about Raphael Varane yesterday and I think this would be the perfect spot to use him in the starting XI. This match could provide him with crucial European experience in a relatively low-pressure situation that can only enhance his development. But, as one of our commenters noted yesterday, Mourinho has handled Varane's development extremely well so far and will obviously make a decision with the overall picture in mind.
One last thing, people are discussing the latest Higuain rumors in the comments of the previous post and I'm glad to see that Mourinho ruthlessly dismissed them at his press conference, lest they become a distraction for the team. Mourinho said the following regarding the persistent speculation:
"You (the press) want to destabilise the squad."
I love his directness here. He got even more specific, saying:
"Last week I had signed for (Manchester) City, (Iker) Casillas was going to Schalke, Higuain to Malaga...The front cover of (newspaper) AS is false. If you want me to comment on false front covers then forget it"
Rumors are fascinating and omnipresent in football but I have nothing but admiration for how these in particular were handled at this crucial point in the season. Bravo.
So let's get excited for this match, Madridistas! Tell us what's on your minds.
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