Benzema’s Real hoping to lick Lyon

Madrid have failed to reach the quarter-finals of this competition

since the 2003/04 campaign, since when they have been dumped out at

the last-16 stage in successive years by Juventus, Arsenal, Bayern

Munich, Roma and, most recently, Liverpool. It is a hugely

disappointing record for the nine-time European champions, and one

they will be desperate to avoid repeating this season, especially

with the final being staged at their Bernabeu stadium. Madrid could

hardly have had a better weekend in preparation for their trip to

Lyon, though, where almost everything went right for them. Not only

did they beat Xerez 3-0, Cristiano Ronaldo scoring twice on his

return from suspension, but they also got a huge helping hand from

local rivals Atletico, who inflicted a first league defeat of the

season on Barcelona. Those results mean there are just two points

separating the big two at the top of La Liga and, with Barca still

to go to the Bernabeu, Madrid are now in control of their own

destiny. Another plus for Manuel Pellegrini’s side came with the

news that striker Karim Benzema had recovered from a groin problem

quicker than expected and he was included in a 19-man travelling

squad to face his former side Lyon. The France international, who

swapped his hometown club for Madrid in a big-money move last

summer, told RTL radio: “I’m fine, ready to play, be it from the

start or for the last half-hour. “I hope that I get a good

reception in Lyon and I think that I’m going to have a good match.

It is a historic moment for me, it’s a pleasure to return to Lyon.”

Benzema sat out the win over Xerez, where world record signing

Ronaldo again took centre stage with a brace. Ronaldo, who missed

the previous two matches due to a ban, has now netted 11 goals in

just 13 Primera Division games since his £80million move from

Manchester United, while he is also the leading scorer in the

Champions League with six more strikes. The in-form Portugal

international will be a concern for Lyon, but the French club’s

coach Claude Puel told Marca: “We cannot just focus on Ronaldo,

there are more players who can decide a game. Karim, Kaka,

(Gonzalo) Higuain…” Lyon have beaten Madrid on both of their

previous two visits to France, but with the Spanish side bringing

in 250million euros’ worth of new talent last summer, Puel knows it

may not be easy to make it hat-trick of wins on Tuesday. “I think

they are stronger now, both at an individual and collective level.

This is not only a team of stars, they move, recover, defend, they

support each other,” he added. Lyon go into the match on the back

of a mixed run of recent results. In their last five fixtures in

all competitions they have recorded two wins, two defeats and a

draw. Puel said: “We are not playing brilliant football, but we are

improving. We have to be more competitive, especially against

Madrid. It’s a very important game.”