MADRID, May 3, (AP): Real Madrid will be boosted by Cristiano Ronaldo’s return and the absence of two key Manchester City players when they try to reach yet another Champions League final on Wednesday.
Ronaldo returns after missing three straight games because of a leg injury, including the 0-0 first-leg draw in Manchester last week. The Portugal forward leads the Champions League with 16 goals, one shy of the record he set in the 2013-14 season.
Ronaldo hurt his right leg in a Spanish league game on April 20 and hasn’t played since then. Madrid has not released any official information about the injury, prompting widespread rumors about its severity, but he participated fully in training on Monday and Tuesday and looked fit to return to action.
“Cristiano is fine, he is at 100 percent,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “He trained and will be there tomorrow.”
Madrid will also be lifted by the absence of Yaya Toure and David Silva, who will not be in coach Manuel Pellegrini’s squad because of injuries. Toure had been expected to make the trip to Spain after a muscle injury improved, but he failed to fully recover. Silva wasn’t fit after being substituted in the first leg with a hamstring problem.
Zidane said Madrid have an obligation to reach the final.
“It’s going to be difficult, but if we don’t advance it will be a failure,” he said. “We have been saying that we haven’t won anything yet. Our goal is to advance. We will do our best to try to make it happen.”
Another edge for Madrid comes from Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, where they have crushed all-comers this season, winning 20 of 23 matches in all competitions. In the Champions League, it’s won all five home games by outscoring opponents 18-0. “Home advantage will help,” Real Madrid defensive midfielder Casemiro said. “It is going to be a very difficult game but our fans are strong. That gives us a small advantage. We’re counting on the fans and I’m sure they’ll not let us down.”
Only two opponents have beaten Madrid at home this season, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.
“That feeling when the fans inside the Santiago Bernabeu get behind you and are with us is unexplainable,” Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas said. “We’ll be trying to chase every ball, and each player is going to be giving their best to ensure that everything works out perfectly.”
Unable to recover in time were Karim Benzema and defensive midfielder Casemiro, who were expected to miss Wednesday’s game because of injuries.
Despite their advantages, Madrid holds a lot of respect for City, which have an impressive away record of three wins and two draws in the Champions League this season. They eliminated Paris Saint-Germain in the quarterfinals, a stage they reached for the first time.
“If Manchester City made it to the semifinals, it’s because they’re an excellent team,” Ronaldo said. “Knocking out PSG is not an easy task, but they managed to do it. They are a team with very few weaknesses.” City defender Eliaquim Mangala, one of the men in charge of stopping Ronaldo on Wednesday, said the scoreless draw in the first leg was not a bad result considering the team’s success in away games.
“We defended very well and didn’t concede an away goal which was very important for us,” Mangala said. “We know that it will be a tough game against Real Madrid and that they play well at home, but we did well in the other rounds.”