all set for Ajax!
We’re almost done with the group stage of the Champions League! Tonight, we take on Ajax (20:45), in a game that will allow us to hopefully see some of the players who don’t get a lot of playing time and canteranos in action. Madrid has already clinched first place in the group, but it will be nice to go into the next round with an unbeaten record, no?
Monday morning was spent preparing for Ajax, with a training session, in which 28 players took part: 16 from the first team (including Xabi and Álvaro Arbeloa), and 12 from Castilla (Tomás Mejías, Iván González, Mendes, Ríos, Merchán, Antonio Martínez, Omar, Raúl Ruiz, Lucas, Denis, Jesé and Óscar Plano). Absent were Iker, Sergio, Lass, Khedira and Cris, who had permission from the club to take a little break (as they won’t travel to Amsterdam with the team). Though Cristiano’s presence was not required, he once again showed how dedicated and committed he is by going to Valdebebas anyway and working out in the gym. Meanwhile, Ricardo Carvalho continued with his recovery process, and Marcelo received medical treatment and physiotherapy after ending the game against Sporting with pain in his left hamstring.
The players looked relaxed at the session, and Aitor Karanka was especially affectionate with Jesé.
On Tuesday, at the last (training, not gossip) session before traveling to Amsterdam (lovely city, by the way), almost the entire team trained at Valdebebas, along with a handful of canteranos (Pacheco, Martínez, Ríos, Iván González, Lucas, Óscar Plano, Tomás Mejías, Jesé, Mendes). Ricardo Carvalho remains the only injured player, so it’s great to see the enfermería slowly emptying out, and that Marcelo’s pains weren’t serious!
Nineteen footballers were called up for the game. Álvaro Arbeloa returns after missing out on the last several games due to injury, while Xabi Alonso also returns after sitting out the last game due to suspension. Three Castilla players made the list – Pedro Mendes, Jesé and Tomás Mejías – joining RMC’s Fernando Pacheco. Cris, Marcelo, Sergio, Iker, Pepe, Khedira and Lass were left out so they could all get a well-deserved rest.
And I had so much hope for them…
Goalkeepers: Adán, Tomás Mejías, Pacheco.
Defenders: Arbeloa, Coentrão, Varane, Albiol, Mendes.
Midfielders: Kaká, Özil, Di María, Sahin, Altintop, Callejón, Granero, Xabi Alonso.
Forwards: Higuaín, Benzema, Jesé.
Following the training session, the team traveled to Amsterdam. Once on Dutch soil, they continued on to the Hotel Okura, where they will stay until it’s time to go to Amsterdam Arena.
Fábio Coentrão took care of fellow Portuguese Pedro Mendes on the plane, while Jesé sat with Fernando Pacheco.
Naturally, Esteban Granero spent the flight reading, while Raúl Albiol has Real Madrid headphones!
I figure Xabi had to come back for this game, so that the A-team could be reunited, and because he couldn’t let Zinedine Zidane “out-elegant” him in the elegance stakes.
In Amsterdam, Mou and Antonio Adán spoke to the press.
The highlight of Mou’s appearance before the media has to be what happened after he was asked about his return to Amsterdam, where the events that led to his sanction last year occurred. Mou answered in English (since the question was in English), “being back in Amsterdam is always good, to play against Ajax is always a pleasure. The history with the punishment, if I have to be punished for better football, I’ll be pleased to do that. But.. no. It was just for me. Football is the same, people are the same, people are not punished, so it was just for me.”
However, the translator, who was responsible for translating Mou’s words into Spanish, translated it as such: “it’s nice to be back in Amsterdam, what happened could have happened to anyone, and so let’s look towards the future.”
This prompted Mou to shake his head and say, “no, I’m sorry but no.” He then went on to say, “I didn’t say that” (those are the moments in the gifs at the beginning of the post). And when asked to repeat his answer in Spanish, Mou responded (in Spanish), “since they didn’t understand it, I have no obligation to repeat it. What he translated has nothing to do with what I said.” When the media kept protesting, Mou came back with, “I’m not the translator.” Cue those witty Barcelona fans making fun of this comment… they need more originality. By the way, Mou chatted with translator after the press conference and left with his arm around him, showing there was really nothing to the incident.
Mou also confirmed that Benzema and Higuaín will start and play together on Wednesday, that some of the starters would also play on Saturday in the Bernabéu and that Antonio Adán would also be a starter, “because whoever I bring to the press conference always plays.” He refused to divulge the rest of the line-up: “I’ve already named three, I don’t want to say any more,” though he also revealed that Pacheco will be the one ruled out on game day, which everyone already knew.
Our coach also said that Madrid would come out for this game to win: “we wanted to win the summer tournament in the U.S. In China, we wanted to score 10, not eight. And tomorrow there is a Champions League game, which always has significance, both in economic and sporting terms. The people who are here are focused and ready.”
For his part, Antonio Adán said that Wednesday will be a special day that will make him happy, since “it’s a small dream that I’ve had for a long time, to play in the Champions, on this field and against a rival like this to gain experience.” He also clarified that for him, there’s no pressure from taking the place of Iker: “I’ve been working hard for a long time so that the fans won’t notice that Casillas isn’t playing. The míster has confidence in me and it’s one more sign that I’m doing things well.” He also added that this is not a test, but that it is a responsibility “not only for me, but for the entire team. It’s not only Adán, we all feel that we have to do things well because this club affects many people.”
And when asked who his goalkeeping idol is, Antonio responded, “I’ve always looked to German and Dutch goalkeepers. I would like to be like them in terms of reliability and poise in the goal, but I have the best example at home.” Love this answer!
In other news, Cristiano is one of the finalists for this year’s Ballon d’Or trophy, along with Leo Messi and Xavi. Meanwhile, Mou has made it onto the list of three finalists for the coach’s version, along with Pep Guardiola and Sir Alex Ferguson. The awards will be handed out on Jan. 9 in Zurich.
Earlier this week, on Sunday afternoon, Sergio Ramos headed home to Sevilla with his brother-in-law Carlos to watch Spain play Argentina in the Davis Cup, which Spain eventually won thanks to a larger than life and magnificent Rafa Nadal (sorry, Pipita). Sergio wore pink again.
Three of the Davis Cup winners, all of whom are madridistas, have been invited to take the honorary kickoff before the game against Barcelona: Rafa Nadal, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano López. Speaking of our winners, see Rafa Nadal play a trick on David Ferrer here.
And Pepe posted this photo of the Christmas tree at his house this year. I love that he’s wearing a Charlie Brown shirt again (Pepe and Charlie have similarly shaped heads, no?)! Carlota Ruiz, Álvaro Arbeloa’s wife, also tweeted the Arbeloa-Ruiz tree, but unfortunately she didn’t get her husband or adorable daughter to pose next to it.