Attack best form of defense for Real in Istanbul

Posted by Rob Train

There can be few greater comforts for a manager seeking a third consecutive Champions League semifinal than the simple truth Jose Mourinho is presented with in Istanbul: score, and through you go.

That pretty much sums up the situation Real Madrid finds itself in ahead of Tuesday's return leg against Galatasaray in the Turk Telekom Arena. A 3-0 win at the Bernabeu last week was not without its discomforts for the home side, which had the rare profligacy of Didier Drogba to thank for weathering a 20-minute mini-storm. Raphael Varane, the recently knighted France international, was brushed aside by Drogba early on, but the Ivorian striker fired high from a promising position. For the rest of the match, Varane mostly got the better of his venerable opponent.

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- Lopez: Galatasaray tie far from over
- Varane, Albiol set to start for Real

Arsenal fans will have smiled ruefully at Emmanuel Eboue's contribution. Through on goal with only Diego Lopez to beat, Eboue fired tamely at the Real keeper's legs with both corners of the goal invitingly open. The former Gunner also ducked out of the cross that allowed Karim Benzema to slot home from close range for Real's second.

The home side survived two decent penalty claims in the Bernabeu: one in the first half when Sami Khedira appeared to handle in the area and a closer call in the second when Sergio Ramos tripped Burak Yilmaz. Neither was given but such is the nature of football. Lady Luck smiled on Real last Wednesday but Mourinho is placing no guarantees on the fickle mistress of Champions League football to do Madrid any favors in Istanbul.

Ahead of Tuesday's clash the Portuguese showed his players a video -- he did not clarify the combatants -- of a two-legged tie won 3-0 at home and lost 0-3 in the return. He also did not elaborate on the cause of the reversal, but Real's back line is seriously depleted for this match. The wisdom of Ramos and Xabi Alonso in incurring yellow cards to ensure a suspension and clean slate for the semifinals is to be put to the test with Pepe also doubtful. If Pepe fails to make the team, Raul Albiol is the only pure central defender available to slot in beside Varane in the absence of Ricardo Carvalho. That will be of considerable interest to Galatasaray, considering he has barely played this season.

"Pepe suffered a muscle injury during the Levante game," Mourinho told a news conference in Istanbul on Monday. "But my team is made up of good players and Albiol will play in his position if Pepe can't. I am confident that all players in my squad are capable."

Michael Essien's recent form suggests he will line up in place of Alonso with Alvaro Arbeloa returning at right back. Drogba will be sure to concentrate his efforts on Albiol -- assuming Mourinho is not feeding the opposition disinformation -- in search of an all-important early goal. But Real will be of the same mind, and will try to decide the tie as quickly as possible.

"We must try to play as much as possible like we did in the first leg," said now-No. 1 choice keeper Lopez. "They are a team who play well on the counterattack, and they have very fast players up front who are always looking for depth. We have to keep calm in defense, keep everything tight and go for them. We mustn't think about the 3-0, I see scoring a goal or looking for goals as the key."

Both Benzema, whose only previous strikes in the competition came against Ajax, which has failed to take a single point from Real in six games in the competition in the past three years, and Gonzalo Higuain, who had not scored this season in Europe, found the net in the first leg. The latter added a beauty in the 5-1 destruction of Levante at the weekend and Ronaldo, in a substitute appearance, kept his scoring streak intact.

Galatasaray coach Fatih Terim is unlikely to sacrifice Wesley Sneijder for the more defensive stylings of Gokhan Zan on this occasion. That will allow Real more room to maneuver but afford more ammunition for Drogba, too. However, the former Chelsea player will have to put in a performance to match any of his illustrious career to give the home side any chance of progressing -- Yilmaz, the side's top scorer in the competition with eight, is also suspended.

The chances of Real drawing a blank are as slim as cigarette paper, but should not be discounted. It could all go up in smoke in the cauldron of Galatasaray's raucous stadium. "The games that finished in a tie are the most finely balanced," Mourinho said. “Barcelona and Malaga start from scratch. Juventus against Bayern is a game that brings together two favorites for the title, but neither Bayern's two-goal advantage or our three goals against Galatasaray guarantee anything.

"My future has nothing to do with winning the Champions League or not," the Real coach added. Maybe so. But another semifinal will keep the rumor mill quiet for a few more weeks at least. Barring a complete collapse, Real will be in the hat for the last four. And Mourinho's quest for the decima, and the personal goal of becoming the only coach to win three European Cups with three different clubs, will be very much alive; all it needs for now is one to hit the back of the home side's net on Tuesday.

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