By Matthew Spiro in Monaco
Edouard Cissé is ready to take on extra responsibility as AS Monaco FC look to overcome a midfield crisis against Real Madrid CF in the UEFA Champions League tonight.
Monaco are without two key midfield players for the second leg at the Stade Louis II, rendering their task of overturning a 4-2 deficit all the more daunting. Lucas Bernardi is suspended while Akis Zikos misses the game through injury, leaving Cissé the only defensive midfield player available for selection.
The 26-year-old has been in outstanding form this season and, while he accepts he could be in for a difficult night, is relishing the opportunity to test himself against the best. "It's certainly going to be challenging," Cissé told uefa.com. "In the Champions League we usually have Lucas, Akis and myself all protecting the defence. This time I may have only Jaroslav Plašil alongside me and he's more of an attacking player."
Cissé is not approaching the match with apprehension, however. "I don't find it scary, I find it exciting," he said. "I know I'm going to be rubbing shoulders with people like [Luís] Figo, [Zinedine] Zidane, Raúl [González] and Ronaldo because they all like to drift into the middle, so it's a great chance for me to see how good I am in comparison."
The elegant midfield player joined Monaco on loan from Paris Saint-Germain FC last summer and admits the move has revitalised his career following several indifferent seasons in Paris and a disappointing loan spell at West Ham United FC in England. "This is the first time I have been part of a successful team and it has been a wholly enjoyable experience," he said.
Playing in the Champions League has helped me raise my game and has given me the self-confidence to succeed at the top level." The highlight so far has been "playing at the Bernabéu" a fortnight ago. He added: "At the end Zinedine Zidane came and found me and we swapped shirts. That was a really proud moment. He obviously respected the way I played, otherwise he would not have given me his shirt."
Cissé was not the only Monaco player to give a good account of himself in Madrid. The Ligue 1 leaders looked capable of causing a major upset when Sébastien Squillaci gave them the lead in a first half where Ludovic Giuly also missed two good chances. But a four-goal blitz swung the tie Madrid's way after the break. "They just score goals so easily," Cissé shrugged. "Along with AC Milan, they are the team that is best equipped to win this tournament."
Monaco, though, have plenty of cause for optimism - not least the fact they have already beaten one Spanish side, RC Deportivo La Coruña, 8-3 at home this season. "We have the same players and the same spirit as the team that beat Deportivo," Cissé said. "We are a side who know how to score and we are convinced we can get more goals against Madrid. We can be especially dangerous from set-pieces. They didn't deal at all well with our free-kicks and corners in the first match."
Key to the game
Cissé has scored two Champions League goals this term but doubts he will be adding to that tally on Tuesday. "The key to the game could be whether we can prevent them from scoring. Somehow I think I'll have enough on my plate at the back without worrying about scoring a goal as well."
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