Real Madrid are set to have Cristiano Ronaldo back available for Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal second leg against Manchester City at the Bernabeu, but will be without both Karim Benzema and Casemiro. Ronaldo appears to have shaken off a hamstring complaint that kept him on the sidelines for last week’s goalless first leg in Manchester. Although Benzema was declared fit for that first encounter, the France striker was withdrawn at halftime and Zidane has confirmed that both he and Brazilian defensive midfielder Casemiro will be absent as Real Madrid look to secure their place against Atlético Madrid in the final.
“Cristiano's fine, he's at 100 percent, that's why he has trained and he'll play tomorrow,” Zidane said, reports Spanish daily AS. “It's not the same with Karim and Casemiro, though. Karim underwent an MRI scan today and he's not quite fully fit so we don't want to risk him. And the same with Casemiro, it's not an injury, he's got an edema and so he won't be risked either. We have sufficient strength in the squad—others can come and play and that's that.”
Those absences give Zidane plenty to mull over ahead of the second leg. Jesé Rodríguez came in for Benzema last week and could play from the start, although Lucas Vázquez, who started in place of Ronaldo in Manchester, may keep his place with Ronaldo moving through the middle. In midfield, Toni Kroos may be asked to play a deeper role, with Isco coming into the lineup.
The injuries are an unwelcome distraction for a team that have won 10 successive matches in La Liga to remain just a point behind Barcelona and Atlético Madrid with two matches of the season remaining. Despite that run, Zidane has conceded that it would be a “disaster” were Real Madrid to fall short of the Champions League final.
“We're in a good moment, but our plan is to give the best we have got tomorrow to book a place in the final,” he said. “It's going to be a very difficult game. If we don't go through it will be a disaster because we want to make the final.”
Manchester City have their own injury problems, with David Silva ruled out after being forced off with a hamstring injury just before halftime in the first leg. Right-back Pablo Zabaleta was also absent from the squad that traveled to Madrid after tearing a muscle in his calf, but Yaya Toure is back in contention.
Pellegrini attempted to keep his players fresh at the weekend by making eight changes to his lineup in Sunday’s clash with Southampton. But he paid a price, with City going down 4-2 to keep their place in next season’s Champions League in the balance.
Still, the match did see 19-year-old Nigerian forward Kelechi Iheanacho continue his fine recent form, scoring two goals to put himself in contention for a starting role at the Bernabeu.
Asked about the big name returning to the Real Madrid team, Pellegrini, who was the Real Madrid manager when Ronaldo signed for the Spanish giants in 2009, attempted to play down the Portuguese’s importance.
“Cristiano will always be a different player—he scores a lot of goals and has throughout his six years here,” he said. “However, I don’t think Real are just Cristiano Ronaldo. We must work as a team defending and attacking. Not just against Ronaldo but against Real Madrid.”
D: Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo
M: Modric, Kroos, Isco
F: Vázquez, Ronaldo, Bale
D: Sagna, Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy
M: Fernando, Fernandinho
Navas, Toure, De Bruyne
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1
Live stream: Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer 2Go