Spain-loving Tim Stannard on a crucial night for Carlo Ancelotti...
Should Real’s night out against the rampant Rojiblancos end up the same way as the other seven meetings this season - rather badly - then the picture editors of a couple of newspapers are going to have a lot of requests for a dynamic-looking Jurgen Klopp. Carlo Ancelotti’s popularity will be alongside that of veganism in Spain - only popular in the domain of a niche market.
Although La Liga Loca senses that the Italian really doesn’t give two hoots if he is charge at the Santiago Bernabéu next year - a life drinking wine in a villa in Tuscany is probably the backup plan - Ancelotti’s destiny once again hinges on a match against Atlético Madrid.
Thanks to a rather handy history-wiping exercise in Spain that forgets Real Madrid having stage-fright in the Champions League final and being seconds away from losing out to Atlético - an ignominy to add to the league title loss - Ancelotti stayed on as the genius coach that delivered La Décima.
He added to his shiny lustre with a 22-match winning streak and even managed to win a Clásico. But time will be well and truly up tonight if Atlético move through to the semi-finals of the Champions League and the players go a little bit crazy - which they undoubtedly will - on the Santiago Bernabéu pitch.
The monumental stakes in play see Marca and AS skittish. Both are caught between rueing the absent players - Marcelo, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric - but also having to run with the whole 'together WE can do it'. Forgetting, of course, that a large chunk of the paper’s readership will be of the red-and-white fraternity. They will be getting a lot more TLC should Diego Simeone’s side prevail.
A lot of time has been spent with the papers flicking on their retro-thrusters and having to play down the importance of key players, footballers who are normally portrayed as gods walking among us. AS noted that Benzema has scored just the single goal in 16 games against Simeone’s version of Atleti. The same paper also reports that all seven games without Bale this season have resulted in victories for Madrid.
Marca have put all their faith in Cristiano Ronaldo, a player who hasn’t always turned up for these encounters, but is carrying the burden of his missing BB in the BBC. Unless Chicharito plays an absolute blinder. “The current Pichichi and Ballon d’Or holder will not fail tonight and his boots will hold a large part of the options for Real Madrid going through to the semi-finals,” writes a detailed analysis piece in Wednesday’s edition.
While an awful lot of coverage is spent on the attacking aspects of the match, especially with the majestic form of Antoine Griezmann, the game is set to be won and lost in the defence. Atlético will set off with a systematic campaign to scare Fabio Coentrao back into the stands - a task Juanfran has achieved before with great success - while the Rojiblancos will be looking to repeat the tactics used in La Liga in recent months: score within the first half an hour and then hog the lead like the most comfortable duvet ever invented.
Although the match is being sold as the be-all and end-all in the Champions League, with Marca’s front cover proclaiming that heaven awaits the victory, the reality is that the game is only in the quarter-final stages and either side that goes through will face a fairly rigorous test against either Bayern Munich or Barcelona.
The difference between Atlético and Real Madrid, though, is that one team would love to be in the situation of a double header against a big beast of European football. The other has no option if it doesn't want to fall into a huge sporting and institutional maelstrom.