Real Madrid v AC Milan, Champions League, October 19, 2010
The two most successful clubs in Champions League (and European Cup) history face off in the undoubted game of the week in Europeâ€™s premier club competition.
Both Real Madrid and AC Milan come into this match off good victories over the weekend and after years of suffering at the hands of their great rivals, Barcelona and Inter Milan respectively, there are signs that these two sides are returning to the good old days.
Starting with the Italians, AC Milan went top of Serie A on Saturday night with a fine win over Chievo. The 3-1 victory owed much to Alexandre Patoâ€™s brace and the support of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ronaldinhoâ€™s prompting from midfield. There is no doubt that Silvio Berlusconiâ€™s summer spending spree has given the Rossoneri new lustre and they are now arguably the truest proponent of the â€œGalacticoâ€ signing policy made famous at the Bernabeu.
Rossoneri coach Massimiliano Allegri has no shortage of attacking options but if he could find no room in his team for the fearsome foursome of Ronaldinho, Pato, Ibrahimovic and Robinho against Chievo, it is unlikely he will play all of them at the Bernabeu. Robinho, who of course played for Real Madrid before joining Manchester City, is the likeliest to start on the bench as he did before scoring his first AC Milan goal on Saturday.
The major injury doubt for AC Milan is Brazilian central defender Thiago Silva who sprained an ankle against Chievo. Facing Madrid without Silva would be a big blow as he is the young legs of the central defensive partnership with Alessandro Nesta and is probably the best player in a fairly porous back line. Clarence Seedorf also returns to his former club where along with veterans Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso, he will be looking to prove he still has the legs for a Champions League game of the highest quality.
Real Madrid have also had a great start to the new campaign, taking top spot in La Liga on Saturday, Jose Mourinhoâ€™s reign has begun well and the â€œSpecial Oneâ€ is very familiar with AC Milan following his successful two-season spell with Inter Milan. In typical Mourinho style, Los Blancos have conceded just three goals in the league this season and their defensive quality could make all the difference.
The attacking triumvirate of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Gonzalo Higuain have looked in good touch in recent weeks whilst Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira could well dominate the ageing AC Milan midfield. There is also plenty of quality on the Real Madrid bench with Sergio Canales and Karim Benzema chomping at the bit to impress, despite former AC Milan great Kaka missing this match through injury.
There are a whole bunch of sub plots to this high profile encounter. Allegri has already stoked the war of words with Mourinho and Real Madrid will be well aware that they struggled in the two Champions League group games against AC Milan last season. The Rossoneri stunned the Bernabeu to win 3-2, 363 days ago and the two sides played out a 1-1 draw in the other group game in 2009/2010.
The Spanish giants have begun their Champions League campaign by beating both Ajax and Auxerre, AC Milan meanwhile have picked up four points from a possible six. The tussle to top Group G will likely come down to the two upcoming meetings between these two sides.
Despite AC Milanâ€™s undoubted quality up front, Real Madrid should emerge victorious here. Jose Mourinho has already fashioned a side that is ruthless at the back with Iker Casillas having very little to do in the opening weeks of the season. And with that solid base, the Real Madrid attack, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil hitting real form, should take advantage.
101gg predicts: Real Madrid 3 â€“ AC Milan 1 (12.38)