The back line of Juventus FC can expect an examining evening in Madrid on Tuesday.
By Graham Hunter
There may be a black cloud hanging over Real Madrid CF's Santiago Bernabéu stadium before their UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg against Juventus FC, but the European champions have promised that it will be 'attack as usual' against Marcello Lippi's team.
The shock of losing 5-1 at home to RCD Mallorca on Saturday evening, Madrid's first league defeat at the Bernabéu since November 2000, has left Vicente del Bosque's team seeming vulnerable. The jeers of the home supporters were a reminder that Madrid have conceded 17 goals in the seven games since captain Fernando Hierro returned to the team from injury.
Yet despite the fact that Juventus have accounted for Spanish sides RC Deportivo La Coruña and FC Barcelona in the Champions League already this season, coach Vicente del Bosque has not abandoned his attacking policy.
"The statistic of how many goals we have conceded recently is not one that you can be happy with," he said. "But conceding goals has not prevented us from getting to first position in the Primera División or from reaching the Champions League semi-final."
Brazilian defender Roberto Carlos was not concerned about how many goals his side conceded - only that Madrid took an advantage into the second leg. "It's crucial that we go at Juventus with the same mentality as we did against Manchester United [FC] and it's fundamental that we take a victory to Turin," he said.
'The final before the final'
Del Bosque was convinced there would be no hangover from the weekend defeat. "We are well prepared after a tough, spectacular game against Manchester United," he said. "We deserved to lose on Saturday against Mallorca but don't worry - we are in good shape to play Juventus."
Del Bosque will take confidence from the fact that Juventus are debilitated by the loss of Edgar Davids, Paolo Montero and Alessio Tacchinardi due to one-game suspensions. It is likely that Antonio Conte, Mark Iuliano and Igor Tudor will deputise.
Juventus have taken precautions in their physical preparation for the last week with the intention of conserving energy and being in the best shape possible against Madrid. Pavel Nedved, David Trezeguet and Mauro Camoranesi are all reportedly less than fully fit, but will play at the Bernabéu.
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon even thinks it is safe to point out what appears to be the chink in Madrid's armour. "They are fantastically powerful in attack but weak in defence," said the Italian international.
The game will not only evoke memories of the 1998 Champions League final in Amsterdam, when Madrid won their seventh European Cup, but also the 1995/96 quarter-final from which Lippi's team emerged victorious and went on to win the title.
Despite being jeered on Saturday night, Hierro will retain his place and Del Bosque's main question will be whether to start Steve McManaman or Flavio Conçeicão in central midfield.