Madridistas will certainly welcome the return of Champions League football on Wednesday. There's no doubting that the squad's minds have been set on Galatasaray since at least Saturday, evident from the lethargic team performance at La Romareda in Zaragoza. While the matchup with Galatasaray is the one Real Madrid would have favored at the time of the draw, it still comes with its set of formidable challenges. Fatih Terim, the excellent manager dubbed The Emperor, brings with him a confident side with vast Champions League experience into the Bernabéu on Wednesday.
What to expect from Galatasaray in Madrid?
It's a tricky question, and one I've struggled to convince myself about. Fatih Terim insists his side's style won't change on the road. According to him, they will aim to hold on to the ball and "play in a way that will make people proud and earn everyone's respect." While Galatasaray is comfortable taking on many different shapes in the midfield, the possessive and adventurous style Terim speaks of remains fairly constant.
It may seem counterintuitive, but a departure from this plan might be more effective for the Turkish side. Conceding Real Madrid possession and forcing it to find its way through a deep-lying defense has frustrated the otherwise stellar Madrid attack this season. Galatasaray would probably feel content with just keeping Madrid within striking distance for the return leg in Istanbul, and this approach may suit that scenario better than opening itself up to the possibility of counterattacking goals.
Gala's individuals to look out for include the obvious names of Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba. While they haven't quite had much time with the squad, their quality can never be overlooked. Burak Yilmaz has been clinical en route to being joint top-scorer in the UCL alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. Hamit Altintop and Felipe Melo's work in shielding a weak Gala back line will also be vital for the away side.
It will be interesting to see who will be charged with the task of disrupting Xabi Alonso, Madrid's deep-lying distributor and key cog in José Mourinho's machine. I assume that when Terim claims there is no secret to stopping Real Madrid, he's at least in part referring to limiting Xabi Alonso's range of passing.
Real Madrid's Approach
The 19 players at Mourinho's disposal are:
GK - D. López, Adán, Jesus
D - Ramos, Arbeloa, Varane, Coentrão, Marcelo, Pepe
MF - Alonso, Khedira, Özil, Essien, Modric, Kaká, Di Maria
F - Higuaín, Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema
Özil, Xabi Alonso, Khedira, Di Maria, and Varane are the ones left out at the weekend that we're all certain will return to the fold on Wednesday. Ramos is likely to be in central defence, leaving out Pepe. The only remaining questions concern left back and striker. Is Marcelo fit and suited for this match, or will it be Coentrão? Higuaín or Benz?
For me, the things to look for out of Madrid will be how much Xabi Alonso can influence the attack, how will Varane-Ramos fare with Drogba-Yilmaz, and who will monitor Sneijder? If he's in the number-10 role, Khedira/Alonso will be asked to put in yeomen's work. But if Sneijder is played on the left side (not where he's his most useful), Di Maria will be asked to aid Arbeloa. I think Real Madrid will feel comfortable with either prospect, however.
I expect Benzema to get the nod, as he's the one called upon far more frequently for UCL ties. It's getting late in the game and Madrid could really use a turn of form and fortune out of the Frenchman.
Finally, I hate to leave this as a bit of an afterthought (as the squad has been apt to doing all season) but defending set pieces will be crucial. They've got Drogba on their side, which makes this challenge even more daunting for a side as poor as ours at defending set pieces. You definitely don't want to concede an away goal before going to Istanbul. Another poor showing on a set piece might just be the quickest way of ruining that prospect.
Kickoff is set for 20:45 CET on Wednesday. Hala Madrid!