Cristiano Ronaldo believes Real Madrid have timed their form and fitness perfectly to be in prime condition for the biggest four games of their season -- starting tonight at the Santiago Bernabeu against Barcelona.
After missing three weeks with a thigh strain, Ronaldo made a scoring return last week in the league against Athletic Bilbao and then pounced for his 40th goal of the season at White Hart Lane in midweek. "I'm happy that we play them four times -- you want these big games as often as possible," he said. "We are peaking at just the right time of the season. We have fresh players coming back and the squad is ready for this."
Ronaldo will be trying to break his duck against Barcelona after three matches for Manchester United and three for Real without scoring.
The contest also gives Lionel Messi a 10th opportunity to score against a Jose Mourinho defence.
The two players top this season's scoring charts in Spain and both Ronaldo, with 28 goals, and Messi, with 29, have the opportunity to break the all-time goal record for one season of 38 held by Athletic Bilbao's Telmo Zarra and Real's Hugo Sanchez.
"They are both exceptional players," said Real director-general Jorge Valdano. "They are both something out of the ordinary, but we have more as a team when Ronaldo is not playing than Barcelona do when they are without Messi."
For coach Mourinho it will be his 50th game in charge at Madrid tonight, and it is his most important yet. Real trail Barcelona by eight points and must win if they are to maintain any hope of winning the league with eight games left.
Defeat would be Real's worst-ever run against their greatest rival. Barca have won the last five clasicos all under Pep Guardiola. Madrid and Barca are playing for all three titles in just 18 days and Ronaldo believes it is unthinkable he goes another season without a trophy after last year's failure.
"I can't even think about Real Madrid going two or three years winning nothing," he said.
Mourinho, meanwhile, caused a press walkout last night by first refusing to give the traditional pre-match press conference, and then by sitting through it without saying a word.
Spanish journalists complained at his refusal to attend, then when told he would attend but not speak they walked out. (© Independent News Service)
Real Madrid v Barcelona,
Sky Sports 1, 9.0