Cristiano Ronaldo and his Real Madrid teammates prepare for their clash with Napoli
There will be 10,000 Napoli fans inside the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday night and Diego Maradona will be among them but even that can’t outweigh the tailwind that takes Real Madrid into the game – nothing gives them a greater lift that seeing Barcelona humiliated.
It’s been a long time since it last happened but Tuesday night’s lesson dished out in France coupled with Real Madrid’s handsome lead in La Liga suggests this will be the season when the balance of power swings definitively Madrid’s way. They need to win to keep the party going.
For the most important game of the season so far they will have their best side on the pitch save for the absence of Gareth Bale who is on course to make it for the second leg.
Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane and Marcelo is their first choice defence and after a series of injuries at last Zidane has his favoured midfield trio of Luca Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kross all fit.
Napoli are unbeaten in their last 18 games but they face the current world and European club champions and a team who will go seven points clear at the top of the league if they win their two games in hand.
‘It will be important to keep a clean sheet at home,’ said Zinedine Zidane with a knowing smile on Tuesday. He is well aware there is no chance of a cagey display. His team will go all out to win by the biggest margin possible confident that even if Napoli do score, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and quite probably Bale can score in San Paolo.
Ramos (left) and Modric (right) are available to help Madrid build a big first leg lead against Napoli
Napoli’s kit-makers Kappa have noted that Roma beat Real Madrid wearing their black strip in 2008 and so the visitors will wear the same colour. The effect that will have on the majority of this Madrid team who were not at the club nine years ago is debatable.
Napoli will also have former Real Madrid winger Jose Callejon in their ranks as well as one-time Valencia centre-back Raul Albiol and ex-Barcelona and Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina. But it is Dries Mertens who is seen as the real threat. The Belgian striker has filled Gonzalo Higuain’s boots scoring 13 goals in his last nine league games.
It might take more than Spaniards and superstition to topple Madrid this season. It used to be the case that Italian sides regularly dumped them out of the competition but they changed that last season when they knocked out Roma on route to the final.
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane is keen for his side to keep a clean sheet in the first leg
And they have the BBC gradually back in shape. Ronaldo only has two goals in this Champions League but the competition’s top scorer will relish the chance to add to that tally. And the boo-boys who have picked on Benzema so far this season will back him from the first whistle – there is always a more positive atmosphere around European matches at the Bernabeu than around those league games that Real are expected to win easily.
On Tuesday night’s evidence this is not going to be Barcelona’s season. And because Spain’s two biggest clubs are on an eternal seesaw that can only mean that when one is down the other will be up.
The final is in Cardiff, Bale is edging his way back to full fitness and will want to be there more than most. This is starting to look like Madrid’s best opportunity of pulling off a Champions League and Liga double in years. It might take more than even 10,000 Neapolitans and Maradona to halt the march towards that end.