Madrid, May 1: Defending champions Real Madrid entertain Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium here on Tuesday night. The game sees last season’s finalists go head-to-head again with Atletico out for revenge for the painful defeat they suffered in the penalty shootout, which came just two years after Sergio Ramos scored a late equaliser against them in the 2014 final, which Real went on to win in injury time.
The first leg comes less than a month after the 1-1 draw between the two neighbours in the La Liga, which would be a good result for Atletico if it were repeated on Tuesday night, reports Xinhua news agency.
However, Atletico coach Diego Simeone no doubt remembers the 3-0 defeat Real Madrid inflicted on his side in the first league meeting and this is a tie that is unlikely to be decided in the first 90 minutes.
“I don’t see tomorrow as a derby, like those, because it is a semi-final. But there will be the same rivalry and we all know who we are playing, so we will have to do things very well to win the game,” Real head coach Zinedine Zidane said in his pre-game press conference, adding that he wanted his side to “make a good start”.
Atletico travel across town with forward Yannick Carrasco likely to miss out after damaging his shoulder a week ago and with a serious doubt over who will play at right back. Juanfran Torres and Sime Vrsaljko are both likely to miss out through injury, while Jose Gimenez, who had been covering for their absence effectively, suffered from a groin injury during Saturday’s 5-0 league win away to Las Palmas.
Real Madrid are still without the injured Pepe and Gareth Bale, with Nacho Fernandez and Sergio Ramos likely to play in central defence.
The big question over Zidane’s team selection is who will cover for forward Bale, with Isco, who has been in exceptional form recently, the favourite after he was rested against Valencia on Saturday.
The 25-year-old Real’s academy product is currently in talks over a new contract and his inclusion would be an extra motivation to put pen to paper before the end of the season. However, Marco Asensio, who also has been playing well, and Colombian James Rodriguez are other options to partner Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Madrid attack for a game where a lot more than local pride is at stake.
“We have to think there is no return leg and do everything well from the first minute,” Zidane said.
“Our fans will be with us from the first minute, they are a great help and we need them,” said Zidane, who praised in-form midfielder, Isco, but avoided saying who would replace the injured Bale.
He also confirmed defender Rafael Varene is in condition to play after resting him at the weekend and gave his confidence to goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who has been questioned by sections of the press recently.
“I don’t think we concede goals too easily even though we do concede goals. We didn’t keep a clean sheet when we won last season, but it is something you can’t avoid, because your rivals also compete,” admitted the Real Madrid coach.