History could be in the offering again for Cristiano Ronaldo as the Portuguese superstar looks to help Real Madrid secure a spot in the knockout round Wednesday night at Legia Warsaw.
Ronaldo is the Champions League’s all-time leading scorer with 95 goals and enters this match two shy of reaching 100 in all UEFA club competitions. After enduring a slow start to the season, Ronaldo finally broke through with his 38th career hat trick for Real Madrid as they won 4-1 at Alves to maintain the top spot in La Liga by two points over archrivals Barcelona.
“Cristiano is fine,” defender Marcelo told the team’s official website, referring to the fact Ronaldo could have had a fourth had he not missed a penalty. “Perhaps he was a bit angry before because forwards live to score goals. Cristiano has scored loads of them and he’s happy with the goals today but more so with the three points.”
Ronaldo has enjoyed a phenomenal success rate scoring on the road with 45 goals in 65 lifetime Champions League road matches. He opened the scoring in Real’s 2-2 draw at Borussia Dortmund on Sept. 17 and has 13 multigoal games on foreign soil over his illustrious career.
While Ronaldo will be the focal point as Madrid take to the road, a teammate who seems to be sticking around for the forseeable future is Gareth Bale. The Wales international put pen to paper on a contract extension worth a reported £150 million that includes a buyout clause of a staggering £1 billion to keep him at the Bernabeu through 2022, and he’s eager to add to the two Champions League titles he’s won with Los Blancos.
“When I arrived I wanted to be successful and win titles,” he said at his news conference. “I extended my contract because I feel very happy, every year I am more confident and I think we can keep winning titles.
“Winning the Champions League is a high point. We love the Champions League and do what we can to win everything but the Champions League is special. … I will always fight for this club. All titles are important and we want to win every competition we play in.”
Bale has 62 goals in 135 appearances for Real Madrid since his arrival from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013. He has four goals and two assists in 12 matches thus far this season.
Manager Zinedine Zidane lwill have to make one change to his lineup since defender Pepe was forced out of the win at Alves in the first half with a hamstring injury that could sideline him for up to a month. It also means Zidane will be without both his first-choice centre backs as Sergio Ramos is also out with a knee injury.
Real Madrid, who are unbeaten in their last 26 matches in all competitions, can clinch a spot in the knockout round with a victory and a victory by Dortmund over Sporting. Madrid and Dortmund are level on seven points, but the Spanish side hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their September draw in Germany. Additionally, Real Madrid are putting their 100 percent record against Polish opponents (7-0-0) on the line in this match.
Legia Warsaw isn’t the best of bets to be the first such side to claim a point off Real Madrid – the Militarians are one of three teams in the group stages without a point and their minus-12 goal difference is the worst of the 32 clubs in this tournament.
They bounced back from their loss at the Bernabeu to post consecutive victoriews, including a 4-2 win at Korona Kielce on Friday night. Legia conceded twice in the first 12 minutes of the match, but Guilherme pulled one back before the half-hour mark before Nemanja Nikolic and an own goal from Bartosz Rymaniak in a four-minute span of the second half gave Legia Warsaw the lead while playing with a man advantage.
Aleksander Prijovic added a fourth seven minutes from time after Michal Pazdan was given his marching orders in the 70th minute for a second yellow card. The result left the Militarians in seventh in the Ekstraklasa, 10 points adrift of first.
Manager Jack Magiera knows all too well a freewheeling contest like Friday night’s would essentially allow Real to pick their number against Legia Warsaw, but after being unwilling to park the bus at the Bernabeu a fortnight ago, it may be more of the up and down pace that could lead to a torrent of goals.
“We are learning and enjoying our time.” Magiera said after that 5-1 defeat. “This must translate to all in the future – for every player and the club as a whole, who are learning to function among within the elite competitions. Real has been playing in them without pase for the last 19 seasons, and we haven’t even been in the (Champions League) the past 21.
“There were no tactics to stop Cristiano Ronaldo at all costs. If we were to focus on him, who would look after the rest of the players?”
Legia’s track record against Spanish opponents is not very good with one victory in nine attempts all-time (1-2-6), and even that win wasn’t enough as they lost on the away goals tiebreaker to Atletico Madrid in the 1971 European Champions Clubs’ Cup after a 2-1 victory.
Pavel Kralovec will lead an officiating crew from the Czech Republic for this match.
Probable Lineups: Legia Warsaw (4-2-3-1) – Malarz, Hlousek, Rzezniczak, Czerwinski, Bereszynski, Moulin, Jodlowiec, Kucharczyk, Odjidja-Ofoe, Guilherme, Radovic. Real Madrid (4-3-3) – Navas, Marcelo, Varane, Nacho, Danilo, Rodriguez, Kroos, Kovacic, Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo.
Prediction: Real Madrid 3-0.