Tottenham and Real Madrid both have a key playmaker in doubt for their Champions League quarter-final first leg in Spain on Tuesday.
The first 90 minutes of the final-eight clash is under threat of being overshadowed by the conspicuous absence of several big names; none bigger than Portuguese ace Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo, who has netted 27 goals in La Liga this season, is struggling with a hamstring injury and sat out Real’s 1-0 loss to Sporting Gijon on Saturday.
That defeat ended manager Jose Mourinho’s nine-year, 150-game unbeaten run in league matches at home, a stretch that began when the Portuguese boss was at the helm of Porto and included tenures with Chelsea and Inter Milan.
The loss also gifted league rivals Barcelona an eight-point gap on top of the Spanish table, effectively narrowing Real’s hopes of a title in 2010-11 to one last resort – Europe.
To get there – and achieve his stated aim of winning the Champions League with three different clubs – Mourinho must extract the very best of a squad that could be reeling from the loss of Ronaldo and several other key players.
Los Blancos were also without French goal-scoring machine Karim Benzema, Brazilian full-back Marcelo and Spanish World Cup winner Xabi Alonso on the weekend, with only the latter likely of taking to the pitch against Tottenham.
Ronaldo is no certainty, with Mourinho admitting playing the attacking midfielder would be to ‘gamble’ with his fitness.
Spurs, meanwhile, will be hoping they can make it back-to-back Real losses at the Bernabeu when they pay a visit, but are sweating on the fitness of Welsh winger Gareth Bale.
The 21-year-old, who has proven indispensable to manager Harry Redknapp in Tottenham’s surprisingly successful European campaign, has been troubled by a lingering hamstring strain.
He sat out Spurs’ 0-0 draw with Wigan Athletic in the English Premier League as a precaution, but is expected to play some part in the quarter-final.
Spurs have only reached the semi-finals of the premier European tournament once before in 1962, and their limp league form heading into the home stretch has almost certainly resigned them to missing out next season.
Buoyed by their 1-0 away victory at AC Milan in the last round, as well as Real’s untimely injury concerns, Tottenham will be confident of taking at least an even ledger into their home leg in one weeks’ time.
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