Gareth Bale will be out to remind Real Madrid why they paid £85m for him in tonight’s Champions League semi-final second leg. Meanwhile, the challenge for Juventus striker Alvaro Morata is to make his former club regret ever letting him go.
Morata, who Real Madrid sold to Juventus for £16m last summer, scored in the first leg in Turin as the Italian champions established a 2-1 lead. Real have the option of buying him back for £22m at the end of the season, although the feeling in Spain is that coach Carlo Ancelotti was never entirely convinced by the 22-year-old.
Ancelotti does remain certain of Bale’s qualities and sprung to his defence in the build up to tonight’s game, as well as criticising his agent for suggesting he is suffering because team-mates do not pass to him.
Bale’s representative, Jonathan Barnett, who brokered his move from Tottenham two years ago, said on Sunday: “Real have to work with Gareth and pass the ball to him more.”
But Ancelotti denied there was any problem in the dressing room or on the pitch, saying: “His agent has spoken without having seen any of our training sessions. He doesn’t know the atmosphere we have in the squad. Bale gets on well with his team-mates. He likes them and they like him. There is absolutely no problem.
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“At this club you get used to everyone giving their opinion. Sometimes it is better not to say anything. Some people say too much. It would have been better to keep quiet.”
Bale was one of the heroes of last season’s Champions League campaign and, as Real try to become the first team in the competition’s history to reach the final as holders, Ancelotti said: “He scored in the finals last year. Maybe this year he will have the chance to do the same. We are happy with the season he has had.”
Ancelotti welcomes back Karim Benzema from injury but the French forward will have to face international team-mate Paul Pogba after Juventus coach Massimo Allegri admitted the midfielder would be fit to start. “He could really show his worth in this game” he said, also confirming Arturo Vidal’s presence in midfield. On Morata, Allegri added: “He has improved in the season, showing real consistency, and I know there is even more to come from him.”
Real have shown nothing but supreme confidence since they were drawn against Juventus and that does not seem to have been blunted by defeat in Turin last week. But they come into tonight’s second leg having dropped two points in La Liga at the weekend against Valencia, seriously denting their title hopes.
Goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, who plays his 150th Champions League game tonight, was jeered by his own supporters against Valencia. He is currently holding on at the Bernabeu hoping to see out the two years left on his contract before a lucrative move abroad. Of the jeers, Ancelotti said: “He is used to it because he is so experienced and it will motivate him more.” On Saturday he looked anything but motivated by it and could be seen muttering to himself as the Bernabeu whistled.
The supporters’ reaction to their goalkeeper and to Bale tonight will be key. Ancelotti will be hoping any negativity will be directed at old boy Morata, and not at the team.