Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has called on his team to make history in tonight’s Champions League semi-final second leg at home to Juventus at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Madrid are aiming to become the first title holders to reach the next season’s final in the modern Champions League era — but their task is complicated given Juve’s deserved 2-1 win in last week’s first leg in Turin.
“The team are very focused, very motivated, very excited about the chance to play another final in this competition,” Ancelotti said. “We’re very close to entering the history of this competition. We know the statistics are not with us, but we’re looking forward to doing everything possible to win.”
To overturn the deficit against the Italian champions, Madrid will likely have to improve on their recent performances, with defensive issues again evident during Saturday’s 2-2 draw at home to Valencia — a result which all but handed Barcelona the La Liga crown.
“In the last games, and against Valencia, the team has played well,” Ancelotti said. “We lacked a bit of concentration in small details, and we paid dearly. We must not repeat that, we must be very focused.”
Ancelotti said centre-forward Karim Benzema has recovered from a knee injury, but Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez may still keep his starting spot. The Italian coach also refused to rule out again using defender Sergio Ramos in midfield, even though that experiment was widely judged a failure in the first leg.
Club captain Iker Casillas is also sure to keep his place, despite the long-serving goalkeeper again being whistled by his Real fans during Saturday’s draw with Valencia. Welsh winger Gareth Bale, another player not overly popular with local pundits, is also likely to start.
James Rodriguez called for all Madrid fans to unite and get behind their team for tonight’s game.
“Casillas is our captain, somebody who has won a lot here,” James said. “So he must be respected. If they whistle one player, to me it is like they are whistling us all. We must be united against this, and support each other. The fans there must be united. The Bernabeu must be player number 12, to give us that bit extra, to help us win.”
James suggested he expected Juve to play defensively and protect their first leg advantage, so he hoped his team could open up the game with an early goal. “They’ll have many people in defence, five at back, so we must be patient, and look for spaces too,” he said. “When we’ve a chance to score, we must be ready. That is what we all want, to score early, so that they cannot sit back. We have the players for this.”
Meanwhile, Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba could also be in line for an appearance after he made a goalscoring return from a two-month injury lay-off to earn a 1-1 draw against Cagliari on Saturday. A fourth-straight Serie A title was wrapped up in early May, meaning Juve’s full focus will be on tonight’s game.
Tonight’s game will also see a return to Madrid of Alvaro Morata, who scored against his former club in the first leg.
But when asked if there were any ill feelings from his Bernabeu exit last summer, the Spaniard said: “I do not have (a grudge) against anyone.
“I am grateful to Ancelotti for giving me so many opportunities to play, including those few minutes in the Champions League final.
“I don’t think I have to prove anything to anyone. I am a Juventus player and I will do my best for the team.”
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