x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Jose Mourinho hints at using Cristiano Ronaldo for Spurs clash

Real Madrid turn their focus to winning the Champions League for the first time since 2002 after their title hopes are all but over.

Jose Mourinho, right, has not given up hope of using Cristiano Ronaldo in tonight's clash with Tottenham Hotspur.
Jose Mourinho, right, has not given up hope of using Cristiano Ronaldo in tonight's clash with Tottenham Hotspur.

The original Ronaldo stepped off an overnight flight from Sao Paulo into the Madrid sunshine on Friday morning. Such is his star appeal, he was quickly surrounded by adoring fans and paparazzi wanting photographs of the bulky Brazilian.

Ronaldo was invited to the Spanish capital for Real Madrid's game on Saturday, but his presence was not a lucky one as his former side failed to win at home for the first time this season.

Their single goal defeat to Sporting Gijon has all but ended their title hopes, but Real fans were not desperate. The title was a long shot from the minute their side lost 5-0 against Barcelona at Camp Nou in November and their genuine trophy hopes have long rested on winning a 10th European Cup.

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Barcelona's race with Real Madrid to title all but over

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But they have not triumphed in Europe's most prestigious cup competition since 2002 when Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane et al starred for the team. They hope to move a step closer tonight with their quarter-final first leg at home to Tottenham Hotspur.

Today's talisman is Ronaldo's Portuguese namesake, the world's most expensive player.

"Cristiano Ronaldo is very important to Real Madrid," said the Brazilian, who spent four and a half seasons at the Bernabeu. "A decisive and talented player who only gets better each day. He also scores a lot of goals."

Doubts remain over whether Ronaldo will play tonight. The team's 38-goal top scorer by a distance, he has not scored for a month, partly because he has missed games due to a muscular problem.

Jose Mourinho last week ruled his star player out of the Tottenham game, alongside Karim Benzema and Marcelo, the Brazilian full-back, but following the Sporting game said: "If Cristiano Ronaldo plays against Tottenham it is because he and his coach have taken the decision to risk it.

"The medical staff have said that he cannot play. Maybe I will go over their heads. Maybe they will kill me if Cristiano and Marcelo play. If they do play, it is my risk. The doctors say no."

Despite the possible absences, with Benzema definitely ruled out last night, Real are confident.

"Madrid are strong favourites to beat to Tottenham," said the Brazilian Ronaldo, who recently retired from playing. "The team looks very good. It is consistent, it plays attacking football and is solid in defence. I think Real Madrid will win a trophy this season."

Tottenham have several injuries to contend with. Alan Hutton, the right-back is out for the season, while Harry Redknapp, the manager, has doubts over the fitness of William Gallas and Tom Huddlestone.

They were been cheered by news that Gareth Bale has recovered from a hamstring strain to play, but their injury worries deepened when Steven Pienaar said he was unfit to play in the first leg match as his groin is still troubling him. The South African midfielder may need a hernia operation which will keep him out for months.

Real want to take a convincing lead ahead of what they anticipate being a difficult away leg.

"We know there is a lot of pressure in English stadiums," said Mourinho, who is asking the sometimes fickle Bernabeu crowd to really get behind his side. Whereas English fans will support their team from the first minute with primal screams, Spanish fans can be more reserved and wait to be entertained.

Mourinho wants to see a change in this mindset and rounded up his players with experience of playing in England to back him up by sabre rattling and putting the fans up to the challenge of creating a noise.

Ricardo Carvalho said: "We've been told about the magical nights of the Bernabeu" with Alvaro Arbeloa adding: "We dream of a Bernabeu that drives us to victory; don't let us down."

Real have the players and the coach to beat Tottenham and set up a probable semi-final with Barca, but they will not underestimate Redknapp's side tonight in front of 80,000 supporters.

sports@thenational.ae

10.45pm, Aljazeera Sport +3 & +4

Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur match-up

Key Battle

Pepe v Rafael van der Vaart

Real’s Brazilian centre-back can be a bit of a hot head at times – he was banned for 10 games two seasons ago for punching two Getafe players. Van der Vaart, below, will be playing just behind the main striker against his former club and he will be tough to mark.

Tactics

Expect Harry Redknapp to use the same formation that saw Tottenham beat AC Milan in the San Siro – Peter Crouch as a lone striker with support on the wings from Aaron Lennon and, hopefully, Gareth Bale. Real may struggle without Cristiano Ronaldo’s creativity.

Previous meetings

The teams have only faced off once before, in a two-legged Uefa Cup quarter-final. Real game out on top, winning the away leg 1-0 and drawing 0-0 at home. They went on to beat the Hungarian side Videoton in the final.

Probable line-ups

Real Madrid (4-4-2) Casillas; Ramos, Pepe, Carvalho, Arbeloa; Alonso, Khedira, Ozil, Di Maria; Higuain, Adebayor
Tottenham (4-5-1) Gomes; Corluka, Dawson, Bassong, Assou-Ekotto; Sandro, Modric, Van der Vaart, Lennon, Bale; Crouch

Facts

• Jose Mourinho has won all five previous meetings against Harry Redknapp.
• Emmanuel Adebayor has scored nine goals in eight games against Tottenham.
• Peter Crouch has scored twice as many goals in Europe this season than in the league.