Real Madrid CF have never beaten Olympique Lyonnais in European competition and Manuel Pellegrini admits it will be at the back of his mind after they were drawn together in the UEFA Champions League first knockout round – a tie that means a reunion for the French club with Karim Benzema.
Lyon, at home in the first leg on 16 February before the trip to the Santiago Bernabéu on 10 March, met Madrid in the group stage in both 2005/06 and 2006/07. Both times OL won the home games and drew away, finishing top with Madrid second. In fact, those seasons are among a run of five straight campaigns in which Los Merengues have fallen in the last 16, something coach Pellegrini, a 2005/06 semi-finalist with Villarreal CF before joining Madrid last summer, is keen to put right.
"Like all the other teams we could have faced at this stage Lyon represent difficult opposition," he said. "The head-to-heads are of course important and need to be taken into account but they won't be a determining factor. Lyon have been French champions many times in recent years while they have put in good displays in the Champions League."
French-born Argentinian attacker Gonzalo Higuaín is given confidence by Madrid's two group wins against Olympique de Marseille as the nine-time European champions continue their bid to reach the final at their home stadium. "Lyon are a tough side but one that we can beat," he said. "We've already faced Marseille so we've had a taste of the threat French sides can pose. Having said that, we will play the second leg at home and hopefully that will help us to get through."
Up against Higuaín, not to mention Kaká, Cristiano Ronaldo and the man that left Lyon for Madrid in the summer, Benzema, will be Les Gones defender Cris, whose side have gone out in the last 16 three years running after three successive quarter-final appearances. "Madrid are among the best three teams in Europe and feature great players like Benzema, Kaká and Ronaldo," Cris said. "They are a good draw though. They are an attacking team, rebuilt this season, and bear in mind that we could have drawn Barcelona or Chelsea."
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