By Adrian Clarke
Young defender Álvaro Mejía is having the time of his life playing in the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid CF, but the 22-year-old is aware that their quarter-final second-leg trip to AS Monaco FC could easily turn into a nightmare if defensive frailities come back to haunt them.
Having played in both of Madrid's last two Champions League games, the central defender has excelled at the heart of the back four, and was in great form as Madrid won 1-0 against FC Bayern München to reach the quarter-finals. However, Mejía is concerned that lax defending in the 4-2 win in the first leg against Monaco could yet be costly for Madrid.
"We know letting in goals is a weakness, but the simple solution is that we have to concentrate better," he told uefa.com. "Keeping clean sheets is one of our weak points that we have to improve on, but it isn't something that we are worrying about all the time. We have a useful 4-2 lead, so we must go to Monaco and use our heads because if we play a sensible 90 minutes we'll knock them out."
Mejía made the step up to the Madrid first team in January after a lengthy spell in the club's reserve teams. He blotted his copybook after receiving a red card in a league game against Real Racing Club Santander, but it has not taken the edge off the joy of playing for Carlos Queiroz's side.
"I have been working my way through the ranks at Real for seven years and after all that hard work it is a great reward to play in this team," said Mejía. "Since I made my debut in January, all of my dreams have come true in just three months. I'm extremely happy at the moment and I want it to continue."
His dreams will come true if he continues to play first-team football and helps Madrid to overcome Monaco - a task he believes is well within his side's grasp. "Monaco's attacking style in the first leg didn't surprise us because we knew beforehand that they were a very offensive team," he said. "We'd seen them on video and they played as we expected them to play. They will probably try that again [at the Stade Louis II]."
Although there is plenty of hard work to be done before Madrid book their place in the Champions League semi-finals, Mejía is already aware that a last-four meeting with either Arsenal FC or Chelsea FC poses another major obstacle in the club's search for a record tenth success in the competition - admitting that he is a big fan of Arsène Wenger's side in particular.
I watch a lot of English football on TV and to me Arsenal are the best side," he claimed. "I like them a lot because they are so attacking and in Thierry Henry they have a player that is in brilliant form at the moment. If we play them we'll have a very hard game.
'We aren't worried'
"The Premiership is now a very strong league," Mejía continued. "But here at Madrid we aren't worried about that because we always seem to play well against sides from the Premiership. If we get to the semi-final we hope that continues. But, remember we still have 90 minutes to play against Monaco before we can say we are through."
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