Mourinho ready to meet familiar foe
Real Madrid aims to continue its faultless start to the Champions League group stage with a match against a familiar foe when Lyon visits the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Tuesday.
Madrid and Lyon have met in the knockout round in the last two seasons, with Lyon edging the last-16 tie in 2010 and Madrid taking revenge at the same stage in the last tournament.
”We are going to meet the same Lyon team as always,” said Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, who answered questions in Spanish and French at a press conference Monday. ”The trainers and players might change, but they are always a team that’s serious, rigorous, good tactically, defensively strong and fantastic from dead balls.”
Madrid striker Karim Benzema is fit to face his former team but will struggle to break into Mourinho’s starting lineup after Gonzalo Higuain scored his third hattrick in four games for club and country in Saturday’s 4-1 win against Real Betis.
Lyon, two points behind Madrid in Group D after starting with a draw at Ajax and win over Dinamo Zagreb, has captain Cris and playmaker Yoann Gourcuff returning from injury.
”There’s a strange link between the two clubs,” Lyon coach Remi Garde said. ”For us this is obviously a very difficult tie, but for Real Madrid too, because we’ve been their worst enemy in the last few years.”
In the group’s other match Tuesday, Dinamo Zagreb will hope to take its first points of the group stage with a home match against Ajax.
Dinamo lost to Madrid and Lyon in its opening two encounters, while Ajax drew at home to Lyon before going down 3-0 in Madrid last time out.
Madrid can take a giant step toward the knockout round with victories over Lyon on Tuesday and in the return match in France in two weeks’ time.
Mourinho is free to return to the bench on Tuesday after serving a touchline ban for outbursts against UEFA following last season’s acrimonious loss to Barcelona in the semifinals.
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas, the only survivor from Madrid’s last Champions League win in 2002, said that would be a bonus.
”He’s our coach. With Mourinho, there’s a more direct form of communicating with the players,” Casillas said. ”If he wants to correct something, it’s much easier. I can see Mourinho is more ambitious than last year. We also want to do better than the past.”
The Portuguese coach has few injury worries but will certainly be without defender Raul Albiol, who fractured his left cheekbone in Spain training last week, while long-term absentee Nuri Sahin and Portugal center back Ricardo Carvalho are also out.
The main selection headache comes in attack, where Higuain’s sparkling form since returning from an injury that disrupted his preseason has forced Benzema back to the bench.
Benzema had also started the season in impressive form, scoring five goals in nine appearances, but then picked up a groin injury that has kept him sidelined for around two weeks.
Higuain stepped in and grabbed the opportunity, hitting trebles against Espanyol and Real Betis in the Spanish league and against Chile while on duty with Argentina.
Mourinho also has Angel Di Maria available after suspension, with the Argentine likely to compete for a starting berth with Brazilian playmaker Kaka, who was also on the scoresheet in the win against Betis, and Germany international Mesut Oezil.
”Higuain is fine and Karim too, they’re both ready to play,” Mourinho said. ”It’s normal that everyone wants to play and make the starting lineup. My objective is to unite, not divide. We play as a team, we win and we lose as a team.”
Lyon’s record in Spain does not bode well for the visit to Madrid. The French club has only won once on Spanish soil – a 2004 victory in the Champions League last-16 at Real Sociedad.
Brazilian central defender Cris returned after two months out injured in the 3-1 win against Nancy on Saturday, while Gourcuff also returned from an injury layoff to make an appearance from the bench.
Argentine striker Lisandro Lopez has an ankle injury and will not travel to Madrid.
”I think our aim would be to get through the group, ideally finishing in first,” Garde said. ”It’s important to get through the group phase and be competitive. We know we’ve done it in the past and it’s possible. We still respect all the teams in the group, but why not?”