Los Blancos continued their capital city domination on Saturday evening, maintaining their pace behind Barcelona and their faint title hopes. Atletico de Madrid have struggled against their neighbors, having not beaten Real Madird since 1999 and failing victim to Mourinho’s side four times this campaign. Atleti’s lackluster season aside, the rojiblancos have shown some brief spells of brilliance at the Vicente Calderon. With Madrid coming off an emotionally draining midweek Champions League fixture, the derbi madrileño could have very easily become a trap game; however, Madrid came out focused and took care of business. As we head into a short international hiatus, Madrid are still afloat in the league and in the final eight of Europe for the first time since 2002.
On Friday morning Madrid learned their European fate as well. Harry Redknapp and his Tottenham Hotspur will travel to Madrid in a fortnight for the first leg of the team’s quarterfinal Champions League draw. Avoiding clashes with perennial English powerhouses Chelsea and Manchester United as well as another date with Barcelona (for now, if Madrid and Barca, who drew the Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk, both advance then we will have a Clásico match-up in the semi-finals), Los Blancos will certainly feel as if they have a favourable draw.
Tottenham sits fifth in the Premier League but will bring a consistency in form comparable to Madrid’s fickle striker situation. Playing the part of a Cinderella story, the London outfit have had spurts of excellence and matches that leave you wondering how this side is in Europe’s top competition. Spurs won their group (some had labelled the group a ‘Group of Death’), defeating holders Inter Milan and, after two-leg defensive masterpiece against AC Milan, the Champions League rookies are only a few matches away from a date at Wembley. Contrarily, Spurs have dropped points to inferior competition (understanding, of course, that any team in the English top flight is a quality side but when competing for the highest European honours, every result is scrutinized) throughout the campaign. In fairness, lack of experience and injuries have plagued the English side; however, they still find themselves in contention for another seat at the European table. Spurs, by no means, will be an easy draw over two legs but are certainly beatable.
Injuries may play a decisive role in this tie for both sides. Cristiano Ronaldo will be sidelined for two weeks and, although his fitness has not been ruled out for the first leg fixture, Madrid may very well be without the Portuguese international at home on April 5th. Certainly Los Blancos are a better side with the Portugal star on the pitch, but an advantage Madrid have over their opponents is depth. Additionally, Angel di Maria and Mesut Ozil have been coming into phenomenal form as of late. Inconsistencies at the top asides (though Benzema has been in form lately), Madrid boast one of the two best midfields in the world (the other, of course, residing in Barcelona). For the English side, former Madridista Rafael Van der Vaart, who has been stellar since his move from the Bernabeu to White Hart Lane, has just returned from injury. His fitness could play a crucial role in the attacking potency of the English outfit; VDV was not 100% at the weekend when Spurs hosted West Ham United, the former unable to earn the spoils against a far weaker side with the Dutchmen's quality being pedestrian at best.
This tie will also set the stage for two of the best left flank players in the game (Bale, Marcelo) to exhibit their quality on an even larger stage. Though Bale's exploits in Milan during the first phase have garnered international attention, Madrid's Brazilian left back has been a driving force in Los Blancos success as of late. Though they will run down opposite flanks, this will only add to the allure of the David versus Goliath story that will unfold at the Bernabeu in two weeks time. Maybe a bit of an over exaggeration? We will see, but Madrid, entering the draw as favourites, will certainly have their work cut out for them if they wish to set up a potential semi-final date with their Catalan rivals.
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