Facing former star Kaka and struggling to find any consistent form, AC Milan is thankful for a morale boosting domestic victory as it travels to Real Madrid in the Champions League for a meeting of the two most successful clubs in the competition’s history.
Milan beat AS Roma 2-1 in Serie A on Sunday with Brazilian stars Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato on target to end a four-game winless run and serve notice on Madrid that Wednesday’s game at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium won’t be a stroll for the Spanish club.
A nine-time winner of the most prestigious European competition, Madrid has also won six of its seven Spanish league games this season. Milan, which has claimed the European title seven times, has won only three of eight and is eighth in the Serie A standings.
To make things worse for the last Italian club to have won this title, Madrid has a maximum six points from two Group C games and Milan is back in third with three. Only the top two advance to the knockout round of 16.
Madrid rebounded from its first defeat of the season with a nervy 4-2 win over Valladolid on Saturday, with captain Raul Gonzalez scoring twice. Coach Manuel Pellegrini used internationals Gonzalo Higuain and Kaka as late substitutes to keep them rested for Wednesday’s match, especially Kaka who will be Madrid’s most creative danger against his former club with Cristiano Ronaldo out because of injury.
Madrid knows that a victory over Milan will be a big statement.
“Real Madrid’s moment of truth has arrived against a club that, like us, has won a lot of European Cups and for which we hold a lot of respect,” defender Sergio Ramos said.
In the other group match, second place Zurich, which has three points, hosts Marseille which has none.
While traditional Spanish rival Real Madrid holds a three-point advantage, defending Champions League winner Barcelona is only a point ahead at the top of Group F as it hosts Russian side Rubin Kazan on Tuesday.
Barca comes off a failure to win for the first time in this season’s Spanish League, held 0-0 on Saturday by Valencia without strikers Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovich.
“We spoke with the doctors and it was done as a precaution,” coach Pep Guardiola said after Ibrahimovic missed the draw at Valencia. “Let’s see if we can get him back for Tuesday. He’s feeling some pain so we preferred not to risk it because it’s a complicated area.”
Barcelona is a point ahead of Dynamo Kiev, which visits Italian champion Inter Milan. Although Jose Mourinho’s Inter won 5-0 at Genoa on Saturday, it is third in the Group F standings, drawing with both Barcelona and Rubin.
Sevilla’s impressive start to the season sees it top of Group G with six points from two games and a four point lead over second place Stuttgart, its opponent on Tuesday. Sevilla is only four points back of Spanish leader Barcelona and is the only club to beat Real Madrid so far this season.
But the Spanish club saw a five-game winning streak snapped with a 1-0 defeat at Deportivo La Coruna and Sevilla will also be without several regulars to injury at Stuttgart with goalkeeper Andres Palop, forward Renato and defender Abdoulay Konko all missing out.
In the other group match, Rangers host Romania’s Unirea Urziceni, the two clubs level on one point.
Three English clubs have made it to the last four of the competition for the past two seasons and a similar pattern is developing this term.
Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal all have maximum points after two games. But the same can’t be said for Liverpool, a five-time European champion which lies third in Group E after a 2-0 defeat at Fiorentina and lost on Saturday for the fourth time in nine Premier League games.
Beaten 1-0 by Sunderland to a shot that took a deflection off a beach ball thrown onto the field by a Liverpool fan, Rafa Benitez’ team needs to rebound with a home victory over group leader Lyon on Tuesday. Another loss and a Fiorentina victory over Hungary’s Debrecen would leave Liverpool well behind in the race for a top two place. Fiorentina goes to Debrecen in the other group game.