By Tim Hanlon
With Real Madrid facing an injury crisis ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid (9.45pm), attention will be on talisman Cristiano Ronaldo to lead them through but James Rodriguez may hold the key.
Real coach Carlo Ancelotti will be without playmaker Luka Modric and forward Gareth Bale while striker Karim Benzema’s knee injury may be more serious than first thought and he will also miss the quarter-final, second leg.
As well as the injury absences, attacking full-back Marcelo is suspended for the decider at the Bernabeu with the tie standing at 0-0 from the first game.
Ancelotti must improvise by either playing two, rather than the usual trident, in attack as he has often done in the absence of Bale or by pushing Rodriguez forward on to the right wing to take the place of the Welshman.
Rodriguez has been in impressive form since his return from injury at the beginning of April with Real winning all four league games.
The Colombian stood out in a sluggish performance by Real in Saturday’s 3-1 La Liga win over Malaga when he scored a fine 25-metre goal, won a penalty and provided defensive cover in midfield.
Now, in the absence of Modric, who is set to be the player that Real will miss most against Atletico, it is Rodriguez who can provide similar passing and build-up play.
Ronaldo’s strike against Malaga brought up his 50th goal of the season but he struggled after Christmas without the support from midfield of Modric or Rodriguez.
“The best player was James because he gave a lot of quality to the team,” Ancelotti told a news conference after the Malaga victory.
Atletico will try to take advantage of the absentees to get some revenge for their defeat in last season’s Champions League final and are led in attack by Antoine Griezmann who is in a rich vein of form.
“He has scored important goals all season and is giving a lot to the team,” fellow forward Raul Garcia told reporters.
The Frenchman hit a double in Atletico’s 2-1 win over Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday.
“The final is in the past. It would have been nice to win but this is another match. The team is playing very well and we are in a positive mood,” added Garcia.