Real Madrid face an arduous challenge in Wednesday's Champions League semi-final against city rivals Atletico, with an injury crisis proving to be the biggest hurdle in progressing to their fifth consecutive semi-final.
With Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema out injured, the onus will be on star forward Cristiano Ronaldo to guide the Los Blancos to victory in the match at the Bernabeu.
Real will also be without suspended attacking full back Marcelo, adding defensive frailties to the already weakened attacking line-up.
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has a predicament ahead of the match in terms of team selection. He must improvise by abandoning the three-prong attack, with Benzema and Bale missing, and replace it with a more traditional formation.
One way to go about it could be to bring in James Rodriguez, to restore some of the attacking prowess back to the team. The Columbian has been in good form since returning from his injury and, in the absence of Modric, could provide a similar fluidity of passing and stability to the midfield."Before I was out I was scoring goals, playing at a good level and now I think it is the same," Rodriguez said in a statement on Real's website. "I want to continue like this, using my characteristics to help the team achieve important objectives," he said.
Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone (L) attends a training session at the club's sports grounds in Majadahonda, near Madrid. (REUTERS)
Real Madrid have not beaten Atletico since the Champions League final in Lisbon last year. Winless in the seven matches played since, drawing three and losing four, they have been outplayed almost consistently.
Atletico have one of the best defensive line-ups in Europe, having conceded only one goal in the last eight Champions League matches and, with a handicapped attack, Real will find it even more difficult to break down their league rivals.
"Atletico are an intense team, that is very good at the back," added Rodriguez."There is always pressure. We have to manage it and we are going to do everything we can to win an 11th European Cup."
In contrast, Atletico coach Diego Simeone will have a fully fit squad with Mario Mandzukic set to recover from an ankle problem.
Simeone appeared at a press conference prior to the second leg match. He said, "This game is thrilling. These nights of football are rare and you have to live and play them. Anxiety, commitment, nerves, the players feel all of that. Those who manage to overcome all of that and play the match will have an advantage."
When asked about the injured players of Real Madrid, Simeone stated that "It's clear that the characteristics of the players are not the same, but another state surfaces in the footballer who's going to enter. It doesn't change us much. We have an idea imagining the match the rival can present and from there, we'll try to find what can hurt them more."
Chicharito to shine
The stage is set for a possible return to the starting line-up for Mexican striker Javier Hernandez, who is on a season-long loan from Manchester United. The "Little Pea" has been quite vocal about the lack of playing time and will be looking for an opportunity to prove his importance when Real would need him the most.
"I belong to a team, but am not part of the important bit, the actual games," said the player to Marca.com while on international duty last month.
A one-sided rout or a clash of titans, whatever be the outcome, it is bound to make for compelling viewing. The match is scheduled for telecast on Thursday, April 23 at 00:15am IST.