Real Madrid may have long since guaranteed not just progression to the last 16 of the Champions League but also top spot in Group B, yet Cristiano Ronaldo is set to get a chance to add to his 31 goals already this season when Ludogorets visit the Bernabeu on the final Matchday. Ronaldo is in the form of his life and on Saturday scored a record 23rd hat-trick in La Liga, overtaking the mark of Bernabeu legend Alfredo di Stefano and former Athletic Bilbao hero Telmo Zarra. The treble against Celta Vigo also saw the Portuguese star reach 200 goals for Real Madrid, extraordinarily in just 178 matches. And, despite a busy few weeks ahead, including a trip to Morocco for the Club World Cup, coach Carlo Ancelotti says he sees no reason to give the 29-year-old a breather against the Bulgarians on Tuesday.
“I don't think that he'll rest because he looks very strong,” he said in his pre-match press conference, reports Spanish sports daily Marca. “He's in a fantastic, incredible, vein of form. He's doing things nobody could ever have even imagined. Long may he continue as he is. And I believe he will, because he has an extraordinary degree of motivation. His teammates, the club, the fans, everyone is doing their best to help him remain highly motivated.”
Despite their standing in the group, the match is far from a meaningless one for the holders. A victory for Madrid would be their 19th straight in all competitions and would set a new record for a Spanish club, overtaking the mark set by Barcelona in the 2005-06 season. That may well play on Ancelotti’s mind when deciding on his team selection. The Madrid coach will, though, have to make at least one change to his lineup. James Rodriguez was forced off at the weekend and now joins fellow-midfielders Luka Modric and Sami Khedira on the sidelines. Still, Ancelotti is confident his squad can manage.
“We've had to deal with injuries to two players that have been doing fantastically well for the team, in the form of Modric and James,” he said. “Khedira also took a blow to the head and can't train until next week, but we'll still have a very competitive squad. [Asier] Illarra[mendi] has been great in the last two games and Isco is back now. It's a problem that we have a good solution for. Apart from Modric, who'll be out until February, the rest will be ready for the new year.”
One of those solutions may well be to move Brazilian left-back Marcelo into a midfield role, as happened during the win over Celta. Ancelotti is also expected to give minutes to seldom-used striker Javier Hernandez and young forward Jese Rodriguez, who is continuing his comeback from nine months out injured.
Madrid can expect to face highly motivated opponents. Although a 2-2 draw with Liverpool two weeks ago ended the Ludogorets’ chances of making the last 16, they remain in with a chance of claiming third place in the group and a spot in the Europa League. A famous victory at the Bernabeu would be good enough, while a draw will do if Liverpool lose to Basel in the night’s other Group B contest.
Prediction: Ludogorets have been far from the whipping boys that many expected in this group, and in the first meeting with Madrid in Sofia it took a late Karim Benzema goal to secure victory for the holders. It could be tougher for Ludogorets at the Bernabeu, even though Madrid’s progress is already secured. With Ronaldo in the team and in devastating form, Madrid should secure a record 19th consecutive victory.
Real Madrid 2-0 Ludogorets
Kickoff time: 2.45 p.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 2