The cream ofSpain and Italy meet in the Bernabeu tonight as holders Real Madrid welcome Juventus for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.
The Spanish League leaders, who have been in imperious form in recent weeks, came back down to earth with a bump on Saturday when they were trounced 5-1 at home by Real Mallorca. It wasthe first home defeat for Madrid side in 50 matches and coach Vicente del Bosque will hope the loss was a momentary aberration in an otherwise successful season.
By contrast, Juventus secured a valuable away point at Lazio, to edge them closer to their 27th Serie A title. With three games remaining Juve require just three points to secure the Scudetto.
Juventus manager Marcelo Lippi has warned his players aggainst complacency in the light of Madrid’s shock defeat.
“It would be difficult for such a thing as losing 5-1 at home to a mid-table side to happen in Italy, but it is funny old world and this can happen before an important game,” Lippi said.
“It is a sign that they are not in absolute good health because a team that is in top form doesn’t lose 5-1 at home.
“But we shouldn’t have any illusions – it will be a different game on Tuesday. Whoever thinks they can draw conclusions from recent games is mistaken and that goes for us as well.”
Lippi has no new injury problems ahead of tonight’s game, but he will have to cope without three suspended players.
Central defender Paolo Montero is expected to be replaced by Mark Iuliano but Lippi faces a dilemma when it comes to replacing midfielders Edgar Davids and Alessio Tacchinardi. Igor Tudor and Antonio Conte could be straight replacements but the Lippi go for a spare defender to shackle Real playmaker Zinedine Zidane.
The French midfielder believes Saturday’s defeat may act as a timely reminder to the star-studded team.
“It was a good wake-up call,’ Zidane said. ‘Luckily we go straight into Tuesday’s big game without having too much time to mope about it’
Meanwhile, skipper Fernando Hierro, whose performance was especially poor against Mallorca, believes the entire team performance was below-par.
“My own defensive work was not up to scratch, for a start,” he said.
“But we have had a good team talk to thrash out the problem. We know we can’t allow a side like Juventus the space we gave away on Saturday.
“Juventus can close a game down and snatch the chances that come their way.”
Real are still without striker Raul, who is recovering from an appendix operation, but otherwise del Bosque has a full squad to choose from.
The tie promises to be an intriguing tactical encounter with Juventus renowned defensive qualities tested to the full by Europe’s most potent attacking force. Certainly, given Juve’s greater stability at the back, it seems unlikely that the teams will produce an attacking contest to rival Real’s quarter-final victory over Manchester United.
However, the Italian side may decide that scoring an away goal could represent their best chance of reaching the final, and with the likes of Nedved, Del Piero and Trezeguet, they certainly possess a range of attacking options to test what looks a porous Madrid defence.
The holders go into the match as favourites, but del Bosque is aware that Juventus are arguably the onlyin Europe capable of causing an upset.
Real Madrid: Casillas; Salgado, Hierro, Helguera, Carlos; Figo, Makelele, Conceicao, Zidane; Guti, Ronaldo.
Juventus: Buffon; Thuram, Ferrara, Iuliano, Zambrotta; Camoranesi, Tudor, Conte, Nedved; Del Piero, Trezeguet.