José Mourinho is on the verge of his fourth consecutive semifinal. In the nine UEFA Champions League knockout stages he’s been in since qualifying Porto for the 2003-04 competition, Mourinho has guided four different teams to six semifinals, taking two titles. If there’s anybody who can assess his odds of winning Real Madrid’s decima, it’s the Special One.
“Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus and Bayern München are one step ahead of the others,” he said on Monday. “I give each of these teams a 25 percent chance of winning the Champions League.”
Only one of Juventus and Bayern will advance after their Wednesday meeting, but given Mourinho seems to be underrating Borussia Dortmund (a team Real went 0-1-1 against in group stage), 25 percent sounds reasonable enough. If there’s something significant separating the contenders from Germany and Spain, we’re not seeing it.
All of which is pretty dismissive of Galatasaray, Real Madrid’s Tuesday opponent. The Merengues may be up 3-0 after last Wednesday’s opening leg at the Bernabeu, but as Mourinho’s told his players, the match isn’t necessarily over. Right?
“I told my players that a team who won the first match 3-0 may lose the second by the same result. I said anything is possible …”
But although anything can happen in Turkey, there’s little to suggest anything remarkable will occur. Beyond the massive talent gap between the two sides, there’s history – our best indication of the challenges ahead in Istanbul. Real Madrid lost their previous Champions League knockout round trip to Galatasaray, 3-2 in 2002. The only other time a team’s traveled to Istanbul this late in the competition, Chelsea lost at Fenerbahçe, 2-1 in 2008.
For his part, Gala manager Fatih Terim sounds like he’s already putting things in perspective, the tone of his comments suggesting he’s begun consolidating his team’s accomplishments:
“When you analysz the 24 teams that have already been eliminated in the competition, Galatasaray’s achievements can be better understood.”
In other words, don’t compare us to the team we’re playing on Tuesday, a team we really don’t have a hope of beating. Compare us to the 24 teams who didn’t make it this far. Or the hundreds of teams that didn’t even qualify for the competition! They’re not even good enough to not be good enough for Real.
“I would like to thank all my players,” Terim said Monday, seemingly reading from a concession speech. “Anything is possible in football but when you are playing against Real Madrid things are not so easy.”
So I guess you’re saying we should watch the game, right Fatih?
- Despite making seven changes, Real Madrid rolled this weekend, handing Levante a 5-1 loss at the Bernabeu.
- Galatasaray made the fewest changes of any Champions League team in beating Mersin Idmanyurdu, 3-1. With seven players retained in Terim’s starting lineup, Gala may make significant changes against Real.
- You may have heard: Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso are out for this one. Luka Modric and Pepe may take their places, though Pepe will give way to Raul Albiol if his hamstring doesn’t respond to treatment.
- Iker Casillas will be back in the team, though he won’t play unless Diego López goes down.
- Like Alonso and Ramos, Burak Yilmaz is out for Gala, a huge blow for a team that’s scored only 11 times in the competition. He has eight of them. Johan Elmander will get the start.
- Central defender Dany Nounkeu is also out, having accumulated too many yellows. Hakan Balta could get the call in the middle.
Galatasaray (4-3-1-2): Fernando Muslera; Albert Riera, Hakan Balta, Semih Kaya, Emmanuel Eboué; Selcuk Inan, Felipe Melo, Hamit Altintop; Wesley Sneijder; Didier Drogba, Johan Elmander
Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Diego López; Fabio Coentrao; Raphael Varane, Raul Albiol, Michael Essien; Luka Modric, Sami Khedira; Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria; Karim Benzema.