Real Madrid are set to have both Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema available for the first leg of their Champions League semifinal at Manchester City on Tuesday. Ronaldo missed Saturday’s win over Rayo Vallecano with a thigh strain, while Benzema limped out of the match with a knee problem. Zidane, though, said in his pre-match press conference on Monday that his two top scorers were “100 percent fit” and “the plan is for them to play.”
Zidane’s side will head into the first leg at the Etihad Stadium in fine form, having won 11 of their last 12 matches. That run has seen them close to within a single point of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga and remain very much in the mix with a chance of landing the title with three games remaining.
And in the Champions League, Madrid overcame a 2-0 first-leg defeat to beat Wolfsburg in the quarterfinals. They are now just three matches away from further enhancing their legacy as the most successful club in the history of the competition and landing an 11th European Cup. Zidane, who was assistant coach when the club won their 10th title two years ago, believes the current squad have what it takes to replicate that triumph.
“Without doubt,” he said, reports Spanish sports daily AS. “The players are really focused and concentrated. In 2014 there was the same atmosphere in the dressing room. I noticed all the players were really focused, aiming for that goal."
"Now we're in the final straight. We know it'll be difficult, but we're ready for anything. We need to be totally focused for 90 minutes, and more if necessary. Then we have the second leg in Madrid next week. All we can do at the moment is focus on tomorrow.”
While Real Madrid are in the semifinals for a sixth consecutive season, Manchester City have reached this stage for the first time in their history. For manager Manuel Pellegrini, it is a particularly personal achievement. The Chilean was dismissed as Real Madrid coach after just a single season in charge in 2009, and it has already long since been confirmed that he will make way at Manchester City at the end of the season, with Pep Guardiola coming in as his replacement.
But after guiding City past Paris Saint-Germain in the quarterfinals, Pellegrini is eager that his side not rest on their achievements so far.
“It’s very important to enjoy the semi-final as it’s not an achievement we do every year,” he said at his press conference. “The players know that. It’s important not to be comfortable because we’re at this stage. Everyone wants to continue, to play the final. Tomorrow we’ll see a team that will play to win.
“It’s important to reach this final as it reflects the work we are doing for three years. The way you win a title is very important. We won’t just try to defend to reach the final. I have always tried to have a team who play good football, play well. The way we do it is just as important.”
While Real Madrid have received a double fitness boost, Manchester City will be without midfielder Yaya Toure, after he picked up a muscle injury in Saturday’s 4-0 win over Stoke City. Vincent Kompany, though, is expected to start after being rested at the weekend.
D: Sagna, Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy
M: Fernando, Fernandinho
Navas, Silva, De Bruyne
D: Carvajal, Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo
M: Modric, Casemiro, Kroos
F: Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1