Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Madrid-Olympiakos: Crucial CL Clash

Group C co-leaders (4 points each from two matches) Real Madrid and Olympiakos will meet at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid on Wednesday. Madrid are coming into this match in dire form, dropping their match Saturday against Espanyol (see match recap) amidst a flurry of injuries and poor play.

Half of the starting 10 outfield players manager Bernd Schuster envisioned before the season are out with injuries.

Just this weekend they lost center back Fabio Cannavaro and defensive midfielder Diarra, both out of the match with Olympiakos. These injuries are added to the long list of walking wounded, as starting left back Gabriel Heinze, center back Pepe, and left winger Arjen Robben are also out.

Madrid CL Results:

Madrid's Champions League run has produced mixed results, much like their start to the Spanish League. They downed Werder Bremen 2-1 at home in their first match, winning but not winning convincingly. They followed that by drawing 2-2 with Lazio in Rome, a match that was theirs for the taking.

The draw at Lazio was painful, given that defensive lapses caused the team to twice blow leads and eventually settle for a draw.

Squad vs. Olympiakos:

The defense is going to be makeshift at best against Olympiakos on Wednesday, as Schuster will likely have to move Sergio Ramos from his preferred right back position into the center of defense, alongside Christoph Metzelder. A combination of Michel Salgado, Marcelo, or Miguel Torres will be covering the right and left back slots.

The midfield will likely comprise of Guti and Gago in the middle, with Wesley Sneijder and either Gonzalo Higuain or Robinho on the flanks.

Ruud van Nistelrooy and Raul will likely play up front, but it is worth noting Schuster brought in little used striker Roberto Soldado late in the game during the weekend. Given the dire performances recently, it would not be surprising to see Schuster make more ample use of his backup strikers, meaning Soldado and Javier Saviola may see minutes if the offensive struggles to produce.

Schuster should give Julio Baptista some minutes, as his outstanding effort and goal-scoring ability would be a welcome addition to the starting rotation. Odds are Baptista won't see a minute of time, but he could be a difference maker if given the chance.

Olympiakos Update:

For their part, Olympiakos just recently ended an 11-year, 31 match winless streak in Champions League away matches. They beat Werder Bremen 1-3 at Bremen, and they are starting to believe in themselves. Olympiakos striker Lomana LuaLua said, "You always want to face teams like Real Madrid because they're one of the best sides in the world, but we really believe we can beat anyone. We've already shown we can win away from home, so why not?"

They currently sit second in the Super Greece League, 4 points behind A.E.K Athens. They won the 2006-2007 Super Greece League title, and hence earned a Champions League berth.

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