In the week building up to El Clasico, Real Madrid could be forgiven for taking their eye off the ball, but coach Jose Mourinho will want his men to be fully concentrated on Tuesday evening when they go to Amsterdam to meet Ajax on Champions League duty.
The hosts are very much in touch with Milan as they battle for second place, but equally they could yet be overcome by an Auxerre side who claimed three points from the Dutch club. Martin Jol’s men go to Italy in the final week and will want to have at least a chance of finishing in the top two when they step onto the San Siro pitch.
It’s likely that if their candle is to burn into the final week of action they’ll need to produce a stronger performance than they mustered against los Blancos on Matchday 1. The Dutchmen were barely involved in the game at the Bernabeu and in truth the 2-0 scoreline was a flattering reflection on the route the match took.
Ajax had a derby of their own to contend with at the weekend, earning a 0-0 draw against a PSV Eindhoven outfit who top the table having scored 43 goals in only 15 fixtures. The encounter will be most remembered for Luis Suarez’s bite on Otman Bakkal, but the Uruguayan will hope that in midweek he can provide the metaphorical teeth for the Godenzonen to nip los Blancos.
The Best Team In The World?
Jose Mourinho was snapped up by Real Madrid in the summer primarily because of his proven ability to win the Champions League, having scooped the crown with Porto and Inter. The Portuguese tactician has los Blancos playing like potential champions at present, having guided them through an unbeaten start to the competition on all fronts.
Talk is starting to drift towards next Monday’s fixture against Barcelona, but the club from the Spanish capital are playing hard in each fixture at present, overcoming a potentially awkward hurdle against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday evening by smashing the Basques 5-1. Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed himself a hat-trick and the headlines, but there were contributions from Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Ramos too.
“This is the best team in the world by far,” defender Ramos explained to the media after the crushing victory over los Leones.
“It was a lopsided win but it wasn't as pretty as past matches,” Higuain admitted, reflecting upon a run that has seen Madrid, a side criticised for striking only six times in their opening five Primera Division matches, score 27 in their last seven.
Winning the Champions League is los Merengues’ main goal this season, putting to bed nine years of hurt and giving the club a historic 10th title. In order to secure as simple a route through to the final as possible, winning the group is essential, and that can be achieved with a win on Tuesday, giving Mourinho the luxury of being able to rest players in the final match against Auxerre in a fortnight.
Urby Emanuelson (ankle) and former Barcelona player Oleguer (hamstring) are likely to require late checks to ascertain their fitness levels before Tuesday’s encounter. There is better news regarding Vurnon Anita and Siem de Jong, both of whom will be fit.
Young attacker Florian Jozefzoon will have exploratory surgery on a knee problem this week and faces several weeks out.
Nicolas Lodeiro and Kenneth Vermeer are long-term problems.
Gonzalo Higuain picked up a back problem at the weekend and will miss this fixture. Ricardo Carvalho and Sami Khedira are also missing due to fresh issues.
Kaka, Ezequiel Garay and Fernando Gago are all long standing concerns.
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