April 5, 2016 7:31:45 pm
Real Madrid and Wolfsburg are coming from vastly differing backgrounds ahead of their first meeting in Wednesday’s Champions League quarterfinal first leg in Germany.
Ten-time winner Madrid is on a six-game winning run, the latest a morale-boosting come-from-behind 2-1 victory at Barcelona in Saturday’s “clasico” while reduced to 10 men that ended its old rival’s Spanish record unbeaten streak at 39 games across all competitions.
Wolfsburg slumped to a 3-0 defeat at Bayer Leverkusen on Friday, its third Bundesliga game without a win, leaving the side seven points off the last Champions League qualification place after a lackluster domestic season.
Not only recent history is against the Volkswagen-backed club. Wolfsburg, in the knockout stages for the first time, is playing its first-ever European Cup quarterfinal. Madrid will be in its 33rd.
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Despite its recent good form, Madrid’s best chance to salvage an otherwise disappointing season remains in the Champions League. Zinedine Zidane’s side is still third in the Spanish league, seven points behind Barcelona, which also has a better head-to-head record.
Some things to know ahead of Wednesday’s game in Wolfsburg:
Despite progressing in Europe’s premier competition in only the club’s second Champions League appearance, Wolfsburg has disappointed in the German league after finishing runner-up last season, when it also claimed the German Cup.
Ten losses and eight draws in 28 Bundesliga games suggest Wolfsburg is far from formidable and that the team was perhaps over-reliant on Kevin De Bruyne, sold in the summer to Manchester City. The Belgian playmaker had chipped in 13 goals and set up 27 more in 52 Bundesliga games for the side.
“The bottom line is that we’re not playing like a Champions League team in the Bundesliga,” said sporting director Klaus Allofs, who expects his side to make amends Wednesday. “It’s the mark of a top team that it can set a marker in quality no matter what the competition. I want that we show against Real Madrid that we can compete at this level. If Real are a number too big, we have to accept it. But we have to go to our limits; I expect it. And then a lot is possible in football,” Allofs said.
Few players rise to the occasion like Cristiano Ronaldo, who stole the show in the “clasico” by scoring the winning goal with five minutes remaining.
Having dealt the reigning European champion a loss in the Spanish league, Ronaldo is primed to add to his Champions League record tally of 91 goals against Wolfsburg.
The Portugal forward, leading Europe’s top-tier competition with 13 goals already, is four short of matching his own single-season record of 17 in the competition. He has found the net 14 times against German opponents overall and is on a scoring streak with eight goals in his last six matches, including two goals against Roma in the round of 16.
“You can only be impressed with his performances, the goals he scores, how many goals he scores,” said Wolfsburg playmaker Julian Draxler, a Schalke player when the side was eliminated by Madrid in both of the last two seasons. “We hope we can keep him in the shade as much as possible for the two games.”
While Ronaldo provides a one-of-a-kind threat up front, Madrid’s success in the competition is also thanks to Keylor Navas’s goalkeeping.
The Costa Rica `keeper has kept eight clean sheets in as many appearances in the Champions League and is only second to Jens Lehmann’s record of 853 consecutive minutes without conceding a goal.
All three goals allowed by Madrid in this edition of the tournament came when backup Kiko Casilla played in a 4-3 win at Shakhtar Donetsk in the group phase.
Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey contributed from Berlin, Joe Wilson from Barcelona.
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