No Modric, Marcelo, Bale or Carvajal - Madrid injury crisis puts Champions League chances at risk

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The European champions could be without a plethora of players for their last-16 clash with Napoli, meaning they need the fans back behind them


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Insults added to injury - that was the story of Real Madrid's laboured victory over Malaga on Saturday. After seeing both Marcelo and Luka Modric forced off with muscular problems, Blancos boss Zinedine Zidane then had to look on helplessly as misfiring striker Karim Benzema was subjected to a chorus of boos while being replaced with eight minutes to go.

Given four-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo had, rather remarkably, also been heckled by a small minority of the Santiago Bernabeu after missing a good chance during the second half, it was clear that the natives are restless right now.

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However, Zidane could be forgiven for thinking that his troops were entitled to a degree of sympathy. This, after all, is the same side that had broken Barcelona's unbeaten record by avoiding defeat for 40 games before they eventually succumbed to Sevilla just over 10 days ago - and are still two points clear at the top of the Primera Division having played one game fewer than the Rojiblancos.

True, another setback followed right away, with Real turning in a subdued performance in last week's Copa del Rey first-leg loss to Celta, but there were mitigating circumstances. The injuries to Marcelo and Modric mean that Madrid are presently without six potential first-teamers, with Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Dani Carvajal and Pepe also all currently sidelined. Even a side of Real’s ample resources are going to struggle without so many internationals.

Real Madrid injuries

Therefore, one could understand why Sergio Ramos was disappointed with the crowd's treatment of Benzema and Ronaldo. "It's in the difficult moments that we need them to be behind us, not kicking us when we are down," the captain reasoned.

Real certainly need all the help they can get right now, as they enter a crucial juncture of their bid to win a first Liga title since 2012 and become the first side since AC Milan in 1990 to retain the European Cup.

Furthermore, on Wednesday, they must travel to Galicia and overturn a 2-1 deficit from their first-leg meeting with Celta. It is an onerous task. Madrid undoubtedly need Benzema and Ronaldo back at their best but, as Zidane quite rightly pointed out at the weekend, he has bigger concerns right now.

"It is not the form of the attackers which worries me at the moment, it is more the injuries," the World Cup winner confessed.

Indeed, it was confirmed on Monday that both Modric and Marcelo are facing up to a month on the sidelines , which means that Zidane could be without two key men for the Champions League last-16 first-leg clash with Napoli, which is just three weeks' away.

When the draw was made, reigning champions Real were installed as the clear favourites to progress - in spite of the fact that they had finished second to Borussia Dortmund in their group, while Napoli had topped theirs thanks to a final-round win over Benfica.

Sergio Ramos Real Madrid fans PS

However, injuries have clouded the issue because while Madrid could be missing pivotal players, Napoli are set to welcome back star summer signing Arkadiusz Milik, who is back in training after three months out with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

There is also the fact that the Partenopei have coped wonderfully well without the Poland international, with Dries Mertens having the played the 'false nine' role to devastating effect. The brilliant Belgium, who equalled a 42-year-old record by bagging back-to-back Serie A hat-tricks in December, has scored 12 times already this term, while former Madrid winger Jose Callejon has racked up eight goals himself. If nothing else, Napoli carry a potent attacking threat and, as underdogs, they will arrive at the Bernabeu on February 15 with nothing to lose.

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An under-strength Madrid will thus need the fans back on their side. "The fans will always demand more,” Zidane acknowledged. "We know that. I understand the sentiments of the people. It is a crowd that always want more from their team, but, sometimes, over the season, with many games, many injuries, the players need some affection, and the coach too."

Zidane and his players are clearly hurting right now, in every sense. It’s, therefore, time for the true fans to play their part in the healing process.

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