Lyon must keep Ronaldo quiet to beat Real Madrid
Lyon will find out on Tuesday whether its shaky defense has improved or not when it tries to stop tournament top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo and his Real Madrid teammates in the Champions League.
After a midseason slump, Lyon has won four of its past five French league games, conceding only two goals, but keeping the Portugese star quiet in the first leg of the Champions League knockout round at Stade Gerland represents a far bigger challenge.
"I already played against him when he was at Manchester United," Lyon’s Brazilian defender Cris said. "It’s not easy, you need a lot of experience."
Having failed to reach the quarterfinals in the past five years, Real Madrid is obsessed with making the final this season, as it will be held at its home ground, the Bernabeu.
"We have to beat Lyon, all the players are ready for it. If we want to win the Champions League we can’t lose there," Ronaldo said. "If Real Madrid can’t beat Lyon then we can’t think about winning the Champions League. I have played in Lyon a few times and I know it is a difficult place, but it’s not impossible."
Brazil midfielder Kaka set Ronaldo up for both of his goals Saturday, putting an end to doubts as to whether the two could combine effectively.
"We shouldn’t think about all the great players Real have, we shouldn’t be scared of them, we’re playing at home," Cris said. "We’ve already lost twice in the last 16 by drawing twice at our place. We need to make sure this doesn’t happen again."
Madrid is in second place in the Spanish league, two points behind Barcelona. Lyon is in fourth place in France, eight points behind leader Bordeaux.
There is a good and bad precedent for Real Madrid ahead of Tuesday’s game: Lyon managed to hold Manchester United and Barcelona to home draws in the past two years, but both those clubs went on to win the competition.
The last-16 has proved a stumbling block for Lyon, which hasn’t reached the quarterfinals since 2006.
Lyon was crushed 5-2 in the away leg in Barcelona last year, suggesting Lyon needs to win by a comfortable margin Tuesday if it is to win over two legs.
"We know we’re not favorites, but we also know we have enough quality to do something against them." Lyon midfielder Miralem Pjanic said.
For Lyon coach Claude Puel, Madrid poses a different kind of threat than Barca.
"There is no comparison with the Barca game last year. Real are a different team," Puel said. "Their teamwork may not be as good but they have better individuals."
As well as Ronaldo and Kaka, Madrid’s attacking force boasts Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema. Higuain has scored 12 league goals, Benzema has seven and was finding his best form when he was hit by an adductor injury.
Benzema, who scored 72 goals in 172 games for Lyon, passed a late fitness test and is raring to play against his old club.
"Whether I start or come on for the last 30 minutes, I know I will have a good match," Benzema told RTL radio on Sunday. "Of course it’s nice to come back to Lyon. I will see my family and all my friends again, but the main thing is the match."
The France striker was an emerging talent when Lyon dispatched Madrid 3-0 at home during the 2005-06 season and then 2-0 the following year.
Those defeats will be engraved in the mind of goalkeeper Iker Casillas, and coach Manuel Pellegrini will not be underestimating the seven-time French champion.