Wednesday 16 January 2019

Ronaldo set to start for Real

Cristiano Ronaldo juggles the ball during a training session on the eve of their Champions League quarter final against Tottenham. Photo: Getty Images
Cristiano Ronaldo juggles the ball during a training session on the eve of their Champions League quarter final against Tottenham. Photo: Getty Images

Pete Jenson

As Harry Redknapp suspected when he first heard Jose Mourinho ruling him out, Cristiano Ronaldo will play for Real Madrid tonight -- but he will do so not having started a game for 18 days and not having finished one for more than a month.

Gonzalo Higuain could well be in line for his first start for more than three months after surgery to repair a slipped disc, and leading the line will be Emmanuel Adebayor, who is still playing catch-up after sitting out the first half of the season at Manchester City. Kaka too is included in the squad.

It is not the ideal situation for Mourinho but with Karim Benzema and Angel di Maria both missing training yesterday and the on-form Frenchman definitely ruled out by the Real Madrid coach, there are few options as he plots a way of unpicking Tottenham's sometimes fragile defence.

On top of the injuries, Real have Ronaldo, Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho, Di Maria, Sergio Ramos and Raul Albiol all one booking away from missing the second leg; Spurs have a clean slate.


Higuain's recovery has been nothing short of extraordinary after he went under the knife in January.

"People said I would be out until the end of the season," he said after making his return at the weekend, "but I knew I would be back before then and that belief is the reason why I have made such a quick recovery."

Asked if he felt he would be ready to start tonight's Champions League quarter-final first leg the Argentine, who scored 10 goals before injury struck in December, said: "If I am called upon then I will be ready. I thought after so long out I would be more breathless and feel more pain in my first game back but there was no reaction so I'm fine to start if that is what the manager decides."

Mourinho could use Higuain, with Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil behind Adebayor in attack if Di Maria does not recover in time. Di Maria is still carrying a knock picked up in the defeat to Sporting Gijon at the weekend and did not train with his team-mates yesterday.

Benzema was also on the sidelines. The Frenchman was inspired in the last round of Champions League matches, scoring both home and away in the victory over his former club Lyon. His form since the turn of the year has seen him go through the 20-goal barrier in all competitions and start to look like the player Real Madrid paid £30m for at the start of last season.

"He may not even be fit for the second leg," said Mourinho as Benzema continues to nurse a left thigh muscle problem picked up playing for France.

One man who was involved in the final session before tonight's first leg was Kaka, but the Brazilian is another whose fragile physical state has meant he has spent more time out of the team than in it since he returned from a knee injury in January.

With Kaka, Benzema, Di Maria, Ronaldo and Higuain all at different stages of injury or recovery, Ozil -- as drained as he looked at the weekend after the international break and suffering in the defeat to Gijon -- is at least showing a clean bill of health.

Tonight's match will see him go head-to-head with the player whose move away from the club he rubber-stamped in the summer.

"I like Rafael van der Vaart, but I like to see players happy," said Mourinho last night. "And I believe he is now very happy because he is playing. Here with Ozil he was not going to be as happy."

With so many injury problems Real Madrid have almost been turned into the underdogs. The walking wounded are relying on last-minute fitness tests and miraculously quick recuperations.

Redknapp will not be falling for that one any more than he was the idea that Ronaldo would miss out on tonight's showdown. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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