SI: Madrid Looks to Show Credentials Vs. Milan
Real Madrid’s hopes of winning the Champions League this season will face an early test on Tuesday when Jose Mourinho’s side takes on AC Milan in Group G.
Madrid couldn’t go into the game at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in better shape: undefeated and provisionally top of the Spanish league thanks in large part to Cristiano Ronaldo’s league-leading six goals.
Ronaldo not only scored twice in Saturday’s convincing 4-1 win at Malaga, but he also set up both of striker Gonzalo Higuain’s goals and leads the league in assists with four.
“It gives us a lot of confidence looking forward to the clash with Milan, when we will have a duty to do things because we can qualify for the next phase,” Ronaldo said after the match.
Madrid can certainly leave itself on the verge of reaching the knockout stages with a victory and Mourinho can count on a near full squad after Raul Albiol and Sergio Canales returned from injury. Fullback Sergio Ramos is expected to be available after sitting out Saturday, while only former Milan playmaker Kaka is certain to be absent.
But Milan will take confidence from a 3-2 win in Madrid last season thanks to a brace from striker Pato, who is on form.
Madrid, a record nine-time winner of Europe’s top club competition, won its first two games against Ajax and Auxerre to lead Group G with six points. Seven-time champion Milan has four points.
“We’ve got to get some points, otherwise we risk going into the last two games under a lot of pressure,” Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said on Monday.
Two goals from Pato led Milan to a 3-1 win over Genoa at the weekend, while Robinho also scored his first goal for his new club. The Brazil striker returns to face his old club for the first time, having played for Madrid from 2005-2008 before moving to Manchester City.
“I don’t go with a desire for revenge,” Robinho told Monday’s Marca newspaper. “I only go with the desire to win what is a very important game for our Champions League future.”
Robinho, Pato and Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ronaldinho combined well against Genoa. Ibrahimovic returns to face Mourinho for the first time since he swapped Inter Milan for Barcelona.
“This is a matchup with a lot of skilled players involved but in the end what counts is how you interpret the game,” Allegri said. “You’ve got to be willing to sacrifice yourself and my players have been doing that very well.”
Allegri also made it clear that beating Mourinho was not his target as he faces the Portuguese coach five months after he led Inter to the Champions League title.
“It’s not a battle with Mourinho - it’s the squads that go out onto the pitch,” Allegri said. “Although Mourinho is putting his stamp on Real.”