Spurs and Real Madrid go in search of Champions League glory

by Ger McCarthy

The highly anticipated Champions League quarter-final ties kick off on Tuesday evening with the mouth-watering clash of Real Madrid versus Tottenham Hotspur as well as Inter Milan hosting Schalke 04 writes BackPageFootball contributor Ger McCarthy.

Quarter Final – First Leg,
Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
Real Madrid vs. Tottenham Hotspur

Jose Mourinho and Harry Redknapp lock horns in the quarter finals of the Champions League with Tottenham Hotspur visiting Real Madrid on Tuesday evening in the Santiago Bernabeu. Madrid’s home form in the Europe this season has been impressive with four wins garnered from their four fixtures, 11 goals scored and none conceded. Rafael Van der Vaart returns to his old stomping ground having starred for Spurs’ during a memorable run to the last eight of the competition.

The Premier League side enter the tie as underdogs and Tottenham will be looking to repeat some of the stellar all-out attacking performances from the earlier matches of their first Champions League campaign in an effort to reach the semi-finals. A Madrid side under the tutelage of Jose Mourinho are currently embroiled in an intense battle for the La Liga title with bitter rivals Barcelona and should the Galacticos overcome Spurs then a two-legged semi-final date with the Catalans looks a distinct possibility.

How they qualified
Real Madrid topped Group G in the first phase of the competition finishing unbeaten with 16 points from a possible 18 ahead of AC Milan, Ajax and Auxerre. Milan was the only side to prevent Mourinho’s men from securing a perfect record with a 2-2 draw on Matchday 4. Madrid were drawn against bogey side Lyon in the Round of 16 but gained a crucial 1-1 draw away from home in the opening leg thanks to Karim Benzema’s 65th minute strike. The return leg at the Bernabeau proved a formality with Real emerging comfortable 3-0 winners thanks to goals from Marcelo, Benzema and DiMaria to qualify for the last eight of the competition for the first time in seven years.

Tottenham Hotspur proved the surprise package of the opening phase of this season’s Champions League by topping Group A ahead of reigning Champions Inter Milan. A 4-3 loss in the San Siro was the only blemish on an otherwise terrific campaign but included Gareth Bale’s hat-trick which turned the Welsh international into an overnight sensation. Few punters gave the North London side a chance in their Round of 16 clash with Serie A pacesetters AC Milan until a wonderful defensive display in the San Siro earned Spurs a 1-0 away victory in the first leg courtesy of Peter Crouch’s solitary goal. The fireworks of the opening tie which included a meeting of Gennaro Gatuso’s and Joe Jordan’s foreheads failed to materialise in the second leg and Tottenham went through to the semi-finals courtesy of another dogged defensive display and clean sheet at White Hart Lane.

Verdict
Real Madrid warmed up for the visit of Tottenham with a shock 1-0 home defeat to Sporting Gijon at the weekend, ruining Jose Mourinho’s long standing undefeated home record that dated back some 150 competitive matches. The defeat all but hands the La Liga title to Barcelona and raises the stakes of Madrid having to beat Spurs even further.

Harry Redknapp’s side were held to a 0-0 draw by Wigan Athletic in the Premier League at the weekend and their hopes of clinching a Champions League qualification spot are receding by the week. Gareth Bale should be back for the trip to the Bernabeu but the likes of Van der Vaart, Modric and Lennon will need to be at their very best to obtain a positive result.

Spurs’ current injury crisis leaves the North London club with only two fully fit central defenders while Madrid are sweating on the fitness of Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of Tuesday evening’s showdown. If Tottenham can repeat their defensive heroics from the previous round against AC Milan then the Premier League side are in with a shout of progressing but the firs-leg in front of a pack Bernabeu should see Real take at least a one goal lead back to White Hart Lane.

Quarter Final – First Leg,
San Siro, Milan
Internazionale Milano vs. FC Schalke 04
The current Champions League title holders, Inter Milan, continue the defence of their crown against Bundesliga outfit FC Schalke 04 in the San Siro on Tuesday night. Inter are a side reborn since the appointment of Leonardo as replacement manager for previous incumbent Rafa Benitez. A renewed assault on the Serie A title has seen Inter close the gap on previous runaway leaders and city rivals AC whilst also bouncing back from an early wobble in the opening phase of the Champions League to deservedly take their place in the last eight.

Schalke 04 have also undergone a managerial change in recent weeks with Felix Magath being replaced Ralf Rangnick following a hugely disappointing domestic showing. Despite reaching the quarter finals of the Champions League and the German Cup final Schalke’s expensively assembled squad have struggled for form all season and Rangnick is the man charged with restoring the Bundesliga side’s morale.

How they qualified
Inter Milan finished runners-up in Group A behind Tottenham Hotspur to qualify for the Round of 16 and a replay of the 2010 Champions League final with Bayern Munich. A 1-0 first leg defeat at the San Siro looked to have put paid to Inter’s hopes of retaining the trophy. Mario Gomez’s 90th minute winner was followed by a barnstorming first half display in the second leg in which another Gomez strike was followed by a Thomas Muller effort to cancel out Samuel Eto’o’s 4th minute opener. Roared on by a vociferous home crowd Bayern laid siege to the Inter goal but missed a plethora of opportunities to kill the tie off. Inter demonstrated admirable resolve to level at 2-2 on the night when Wesley Sneijeder converted from the edge of the area and a remarkable comeback was completed by a superb Pandev strike in the 88th minute to send Inter through.

FC Schalke 04’s Champions League odyssey began by surprisingly finishing top of Group B ahead of Lyon, Benfica and Hapoel Tel Aviv with only a single loss recorded. The draw for the Round of 16 saw the Germans selected to face an in-form Valencia side. Schalke were not expected to get through but gained a hard earned 1-1 draw at the Mestalla with Raul returning to his homeland to score and cancel out Soldado’s opener for the hosts. The Germans produced a dazzling second leg performance to blow away Valencia’s challenge. The visitors hit the front courtesy of a Ricardo Costa opener but a brace from the electric Farfan was added to by Gavranovic to complete a memorable 3-1 win in front of an ecstatic home crowd.

Verdict
Inter’s weekend derby loss to AC Milan suggests the Serie A title may be out of reach for Leanardo’s side while Schalke’s 2-0 loss away to Bayer Leverkusen leaves the Champions League as the Bundesliga’s only hope of a trophy this season. So we’ll go with Inter to earn a comfortable first leg victory at the San Siro.