Health of Ronaldo & Benzema weighs over Madrid trip to City
ABS-CBN Sports on Apr 25, 2016 10:31 AM
Real Madrid's Karim Benzema tries to control the ball during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Rayo Vallecano and Real Madrid at the Vallecas stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday April 23, 2016. Madrid lost Karim Benzema with a leg injury near the end of the first half, three days before its Champions League semifinal first leg at Manchester City. (AP Photo/Paul White)
JOSEPH WILSON, Associated Press
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Real Madrid heads to Manchester City for Tuesday's first leg of their Champions League semifinal with one major concern: the fitness of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.
Both star strikers, who have scored 74 goals between them this season, are nursing right-leg injuries.
Ronaldo strained a muscle in a win over Villarreal on Wednesday, ruling him out of Saturday's match at Rayo Vallecano - that Benzema exited before halftime with a leg injury of his own.
Coach Zinedine Zidane said that Ronaldo, who trained on Sunday, will travel with the squad to England. Benzema is a bigger worry for the former France great.
"We're going to assess Benzema," Zidane said after Saturday's match. "All I can say is that it's not a knock. I hope that it's nothing serious and that he'll be available for Tuesday."
While fitness is the focus for Madrid, crosstown rival Atletico Madrid is preparing its defense to handle Bayern Munich's impressive attack in Wednesday's other semifinal.
Here is a closer look at this week's Champions League matches:
MANCHESTER CITY-REAL MADRID
The 10-time champions have already found their savior in case Ronaldo and Benzema have not fully recovered to face City.
Gareth Bale rose to the occasion when both his strike partners were out on Saturday, scoring two goals to lead a 3-2 comeback victory at Rayo that kept Madrid in the fight for the Spanish league title.
For Bale, Madrid has the "psychological" advantage of playing the second leg back in Spain.
"If we get a good result in the Etihad Stadium, back at the Bernabeu our fans are always going to help us," Bale said. "As long as we don't lose there, we'll be very confident at the Bernabeu."
Under former Madrid manager Manuel Pellegrini, City is in fine form domestically in April. Besides a draw against lowly Newcastle, high-scoring wins — 3-0 over Chelsea and a 4-0 rout of Stoke on Saturday — are a reminder of City at its best.
Kevin de Bruyne has been the inspiration behind the revival, as a dynamo in midfielder since returning after two months out. The Belgian was rested against Stoke in preparation for Madrid.
"Now almost everybody is back and it gives us a different feeling," De Bruyne said.
ATLETICO MADRID-BAYERN MUNICH
The match at Vicente Calderon Stadium promises to be an intriguing clash of styles between two of the game's most respected managers.
While Pep Guardiola has remade Bayern on the model of his attractive Barcelona sides, Diego Simeone has forged Atletico into one of the best defensive teams in Europe and has it on the cusp of a second final in three years.
Atletico has already proven strong enough to suffocate Barcelona's trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar in the last round.
Goalie Jan Oblak anchors a defense that has kept seven clean sheets in 10 Champions League matches, in addition to 22 clean sheets in 35 rounds of the Spanish league - keeping it level on points with leader Barcelona with three matches left.
Atletico will likely be without injured centerback Diego Godin. That leaves youngsters Jose Gimenez and Lucas Hernandez to hold down its back line against Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Mueller's combined 16 goals in the competition.
"The tie against Bayern is going to be as hard or harder than the one against Barcelona," Gimenez said. "They have different weapons, but play a similar kind of football. We hope that they don't have a good night and we can get a good result."
In their only prior meeting, Bayern needed a replay to beat Atletico in the 1974 final for its first of five European Cups.
One win away from clinching a third Bundesliga title in as many years under Guardiola, Bayern is focused winning the Champions League to cap the Catalan manager's last season in charge before taking over at City next season.
AP writers Rob Harris in London and Ciaran Fahey in Berlin contributed to this report.