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Champions League Preview: Real Madrid – Olympique de Marseille

Kick-off: Wednesday, September 30 2009, 20:45 CET
Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain

Bonjour, Bernabeu

Real Madrid have now triumphed in six straight matches, taking the full 15 points from their official Liga encounters and the full three from their Champions League visit to Zurich two weeks ago. But on Wednesday, Manuel Pellegrini’s side will have to find another gear to prolong the string of favourable results and beat an Olympique de Marseille side who are, for the most part, more talented than the competition Los Blancos have thus far faced.

While the results may have turned out well for the Spanish giants, there have been some uncertainties with respect to the quality of Madrid’s play. For long stretches of recent matches, Los Blancos have looked grey on the pitch, somewhat aimless in attack and lacking the flair that is so adamantly demanded by Bernabeu faithful. Yes, they have won, usually scoring a salvo of goals in the span of a few short minutes, but it cannot be said that Madrid have dominated matches for the full 90 minutes.

Part of this failure to play entertaining football has a bit to do with Manuel Pellegrini’s rotations in the squad that have been instituted to keep players fresh for all competitions, and it is apparent that the Madrid attack stalls when either Cristiano Ronaldo or (especially) Kaka are on the bench.

But if Los Blancos are to make a legitimate push in all three competitions this season, the role players must also prove their quality, as teams without depth do not tend to progress far into the Champions League. Should Madrid hope to be in Europe’s elite competition by the time the final at the Santiago Bernabeu rolls around in May, they will need each and every player to pull his weight.
 
The French Connection

Last year’s Ligue 1 runner-ups made some notable acquisitions during the summer in anticipation of making good on their Champions League berth this season. Among them, former Madrid players Gabriel Heinze and Fernando Morientes make their returns to the Bernabeu to face their former team.

However, history does not favour the homecomings of the former Merengues. Marseille lost all three of their away games last season in the Champions League group stage, and have lost five successive away games in the competition since winning 1-0 at Liverpool in their first tie on the road in 2007-08.

Marseille coach Didier Deschamps will be keen to reverse these results on Wednesday, and the French tactician will be under a fair bit of pressure this season. After making some notable signings this summer, including star Argentine midfielder Lucho Gonzalez, anything short of an improvement by the French side in European competition will be considered a failure.

FORM GUIDE

Real Madrid

Sept 26 Real Madrid 3-0 Tenerife (Liga)
Sept 23 Villarreal 0-2 Real Madrid (Liga)
Sept 19 Real Madrid 5-0 Xerez (Liga)
Sept 15 FC Zurich 2-5 Real Madrid (Champions League)    
Sept 12 Espanyol 0-3 Real Madrid (Liga)

Marseille

Sept 26 Valenciennes 3-2 Olympique de Marseille (Ligue 1)
Sept 19 Olympique de Marseille 4-2 Montpellier (Ligue 1)
Sept 15 Olympique de Marseille 1-2 AC Milan (Champions League)
Sept 12 Le Mans 1-2 Olympique de Marseille (Ligue 1)
Sept 04 Monaco 2-0 Olympique de Marseille (Friendly)

 
TEAM NEWS


Real Madrid


Madrid have found themselves facing a bit of an injury crisis in defence. The most recent casualty is Lassana Diarra, who will be out of Wednesday’s match having picked up a muscle injury in the weekend match against Tenerife. Also doubtful for the game are Sergio Ramos and Guti who have both picked up minor knocks. Sergio Ramos’ injury is especially worrisome for Pellegrini as both Alvaro Arbeloa and Christoph Metzelder are out for a few weeks still, leaving the back line somewhat bare. Should Ramos be unfit for Wednesdays’ match, Raul Albiol, who played sparingly at right-back for Valencia last season, could be called up to fill the absence on the right side, meaning that Ezequiel Garay could get a rare Champions League start alongside Pepe in the centre of defence.

In the midfield, Guti’s absence leaves a place for Esteban Granero, Mahamadou Diarra or Fernando Gago to pair with Xabi Alonso while up front Ruud Van Nistelrooy is also still out for a few more weeks. Raul also played a full match at the weekend, meaning that Gonzalo Higuain, who was recently called up to Diego Maradona’s Argentina national side, could make the start.

Probable Starting XI (4-2-2-2): Casillas – Albiol, Pepe, Garay, Marcelo – M. Diarra, Xabi Alonso – Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo – Higuain, Benzema

Marseille

Didier Deschamps will be without Bakari Kone, who is still trying to overcome injury. However, holding midfielder Stephane Mbia returns to his squad list after a brief spell out.

While Fernando Morientes and Gabriel Heinze make their return to the Spanish capital, it seems likely that only the Argentine will enjoy a place in the starting line-up. The Spaniard will likely come on as a second half substitute.

Probable Starting XI (4-3-1-2): Mandanda – Bonnart, Diawara, Heinze, Taiwo – Cisse, Mbia, Cheyrou – Lucho – Brandao, Niang



PLAYERS TO WATCH

Real Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka remain the superstars. After 'CR9’s' free kick missiles in the first Champions League encounter at Zurich, every foul near the Marseille area will be a dangerous one for the French visitors. Kaka, meanwhile, remains the creator of the Madrid attack and Los Blancos suffer greatly when he sits on the bench. Xabi Alonso’s link-up play in midfield will also be worth watching for those who enjoy the more nuanced aspects of the sport.
 
Marseille


Lucho Gonzalez is Marseille’s star signing and their most dangerous player, and should Madrid’s Mahamadou Diarra get the start, he will surely be given task of marking the Argentine midfielder. Gabriel Heinze will also be keen to show the Madrid faithful that Los Blancos made a mistake in letting him go (they didn’t), and will hope to do his part in snuffing out the Merengue attack. Finally, expect Fernando Morientes to be given a respectful ovation from the Bernabeu should he make an appearance in the second half.


PREDICTION

Madrid have yet to play an exceedingly dominant match at home and will look to do so in their 2009-10 Champions League debut at the Bernabeu. Marseille are a much more potent side than the Zurich side Madrid faced two weeks ago, but given the level of talent in Manuel Pellegrini’s team, it seems unlikely that they will concede points to the French. Expect a hard-fought encounter, but one that could, contrary to some of Madrid’s more recent matches, be very entertaining.

Real Madrid 2-0 Marseille


Cyrus C. Malek, Goal.com