Any time the two most successful clubs in the history of UEFA Champions League (formerly the European Cup) get together, it no doubt brings out lots of interest as everyone wants to see two heavyweights battle it out.
But Tuesday’s match between AC Milan and Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium will be more unique for several reasons.
For one, Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho will be facing the side that had been his arch rival the past two seasons when he managed Inter Milan.
Secondly, the nine-time champions will be looking to avenge defeat at the hands of the Rossoneri almost one year ago to the date. AC Milan defeated the Galacticos 3-2 in Madrid last season.
Thirdly, both sides are playing far better than they were a season ago.
In last season’s match, AC Milan featured Dida in goal and he will always be remembered for one of the biggest blunders in UEFA Champions League history in the match at Bernabeu. He fumbled the ball by himself right to the feet of Raul, who promptly put the ball in the back of the net.
Both Dida and Raul are no longer with their respective sides.
Real Madrid also struggled defensively in the match that saw Alexandre Pato score twice for the Rossoneri.
Real Madrid currently sits alone in first place in the Spanish La Liga standings after seven matches with 17 points, having conceded just three goals in the span. The Galacticos have also scored 10 goals over their last two La Liga matches.
The seven-time European champion Rossoneri are tied for second in the Italian Serie A with 14 points, also after seven match days and is unbeaten since Sept. 11, when it fell to recently promoted Cesena 2-0.
The two sides match up quite well.
Both have quality veteran goalkeepers like Iker Casillas, who is expected to start for the home side, and Christian Abbiati for the Rossoneri.
Real Madrid’s defense has played very well thus far, even though Mourinho is not very deep in the position. One key will be to see if Sergio Ramos is fit to play as he sat out the weekend match with Malaga due to an ankle injury sustained with the Spanish national team. AC Milan’s official web site is reporting that Ramos is not expected to play.
The Rossoneri’s official site is reporting that captain Massimo Ambrosini is not match fit and the defensive midfielder will miss the contest. Center back Thiago Silva left Saturday’s match with Chievo early and a decision on his availability will be made just before kickoff.
Real Madrid is expected to start with Alvaro Arbolea, Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho and Marcelo across the back line.
AC Milan should counter with Gianluca Zambrotta, Alessandro Nesta, Thiago Silva or Daniele Bonera and Luca Antonini on the left side.
Since Real Madrid plays a 4-2-3-1, Xabi Alonso and German Sami Khedira are expected to play in the defensive midfield roles.
AC Milan, which goes with three in the midfield, should feature Andrea Pirlo flanked by Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf.
Mourinho is expected to play Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria in his three-man attacking midfielder line with Gonzalo Higuain as the lone pure striker up front.
AC Milan should counter with Ronaldinho playing as an attacking midfielder behind Pato and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
While Real Madrid holds the home-field advantage, AC Milan has an advantage in that many of its players are well-rested. Many of Milan’s veteran players no longer feature in their respective national teams and therefore had some time to rest last week while others were on international duty. They include Nesta, Gattuso, Seedorf, Abbiati, Ronaldinho and Antonini.
One of Real Madrid’s advantages in having Ozil is that he is a player who is willing to drift back and help out on defense. Argentina’s national team has shown recently that a side with four attackers is a recipe for disaster. Argentina lost 4-0 to Germany in the World Cup using this formation, and lost last week during the international break to Japan by going back to the same system. Since Di Maria is one of these players from Argentina, Ozil’s role as a defender will be a key.
Ultimately the result of this match will be determined by the pace of the game. If Real Madrid allows for the game to open up, we could be seeing a high-scoring affair. If the match is kept under lock in a tactical zone, expect it to finish 1-1.