MADRID: Rafa Benitez will make his Champions League debut as Real Madrid coach at home to Group A rivals Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday safe in the knowledge that record marksman Cristiano Ronaldo is not past it after all. After Ronaldo failed to score in Real’s opening two La Liga games of the campaign, there were suggestions the 30-year-old, the all-time top scorer in Europe’s elite club competition, might be starting to feel his age.
The Portugal captain answered the doubters in emphatic style when he rattled five goals past Espanyol in a 6-0 La Liga romp on Saturday to overtake former striker Raul as the 10-times European champions’ record scorer in Spain’s top flight. Shakhtar could be in for a rough ride at the Bernabeu, where Real have only failed to win their opening home match twice in 45 European Cup campaigns and not since 1962 when they drew 3-3 against Anderlecht. “When the goals come quickly it fills you with confidence and that helps the team control games better,” Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas told reporters. “Now we need to focus on the Champions League and fingers crossed we’ll be able to hang onto this level of confidence to win,” added the Costa Rica international, who has not conceded a goal in Real’s three La Liga outings this term.
Against Espanyol, Real made light of the absence of Colombia playmaker James Rodriguez, who is sidelined with a thigh muscle injury, while Benitez was able to rest influential Germany midfielder Toni Kroos. Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu will need to engineer a smooth transition from the offensive style the team is used to playing in the Ukrainian league to defensive mode after his side won 5-0 at Metalist Kharkiv on Friday.
While the focus will be on repelling the inevitable waves of Real attacks, the club have their own prolific scorer in Brazilian midfielder Alex Teixeira, who has netted nine goals in seven appearances this season. “The problem is Shakhtar attacks almost all the time in Ukrainian championship games while in the Champions league we will have to defend a lot too,” Lucescu said. “I am reflecting upon what we can do about it,” added the Romanian. Group A also includes Paris St Germain and Malmo, who meet in the French capital on Tuesday. —Reuters